Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Innocence in Alabama needs your help!

Via The Innocence Blog

Tommy Arthur has spent 25 years on Alabama’s death row for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. Again this week, his lawyers filed court papers requesting DNA testing at the defense's expense. The filing requests a stay if the testing can not be completed by Arthur's scheduled execution date of July 31. The Innocence Project has consulted with Arthur's attorneys on the case, and thousands of supporters have sent emails to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley calling on him to order DNA testing for Arthur.

Visit the Innocence Project on-line to read more about Arthur's case. Click here to send an e-mail to Governor Riley asking that this request be accomodated. Possibly taking an innocent life will not provide justice and only serves to weaken our judicial system.

Missing: Camille Johnson

Via Deidra at Black and Missing but not Forgotten

A Cobb County mother needs your help finding her missing daughter.

16-year-old Camille Johnson was last seen around 9 p.m. Wednesday (June 18th).

Authorities said the teen has significant health issues and is on medication. They said the teenager suffers from hypoglycemia, which may cause her to black out.

The teen does not have her medication or asthma pump, according to her mom.

The missing teen is described as black, 5 feet 1, and weighing between 110 and 115 pounds. She has a small tattoo on her right calf, a belly ring, and brown and platinum blonde braids.

If you have any information on the teen’s whereabouts, call (678) 699-1216 or dial 911.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

FA and DV

There is a pervasive way of thinking in our culture today that seeks to undermine our fight for empowerment, and keep women in the shadows. Women are being attacked at every opportunity by messages designed to make them feel bad about themselves, in hopes that these women will then buy what the messenger is selling. At the Media Awareness Network, this problem is defined quite clearly.

Why are standards of beauty being imposed on women, the majority of whom are naturally larger and more mature than any of the models? The roots, some analysts say, are economic. By presenting an ideal difficult to achieve and maintain, the cosmetic and diet product industries are assured of growth and profits. And it’s no accident that youth is increasingly promoted, along with thinness, as an essential criterion of beauty. If not all women need to lose weight, for sure they’re all aging, says the Quebec Action Network for Women’s Health in its 2001 report Changements sociaux en faveur de la diversité des images corporelles.

It is important to remember that while this kind of shaming is a popular tactic across the gender spectrum, it is most often directed towards women.

The American research group Anorexia Nervosa & Related Eating Disorders, Inc. says that one out of every four college-aged women uses unhealthy methods of weight control—including fasting, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse, and self-induced vomiting. Researchers report that women’s magazines have ten and one-half times more ads and articles promoting weight loss than men’s magazines do, and over three-quarters of the covers of women’s magazines include at least one message about how to change a woman’s bodily appearance—by diet, exercise or cosmetic surgery.

Television and movies reinforce the importance of a thin body as a measure of a woman’s worth. Canadian researcher Gregory Fouts reports that over three-quarters of the female characters in TV situation comedies are underweight, and only one in twenty are above average in size. Heavier actresses tend to receive negative comments from male characters about their bodies ("How about wearing a sack?"), and 80 per cent of these negative comments are followed by canned audience laughter.

So the message that is largely received by both women and girls from magazines, television, and film is that not only is something inherently wrong with their body, but that these "flaws" also constitute a personal moral failing which renders them deserving of any humiliation that comes their way.

In and of itself, there is nothing linguistically harmful about the word "fat". It is a generic descriptor much like tall, short, blonde, brunette, etc. The reason that "fat" is such a loaded term is that our culture has framed fatness as practically a crime against humanity, especially if the owner of the fat is female. We're taught from a very early age that fat is not a simple descriptive term, because fat is culturally synonymous with lazy, unpleasant, smelly, unloveable, etc. This correlation is made not only by many thin people, but often by fat people who firmly believe they deserve the disrespect being thrown at them.

Sandra Kiume on Psych Central wrote a letter to the editor detailing an event she'd witness where a man on the street demanded a woman he knew follow him and called her fat along with a few other insults. Kiume's response deftly illustrates why body image is a subject central to the fight against domestic violence.

First, she wasn’t fat. But all mean kids and abusers know that the easiest way to hurt a young woman’s self-esteem is to attack her body image, especially with that cruel three-letter “f” word. It’s verbal abuse in our thin-obsessed culture. The other two words he called her are just more obviously abusive.

Verbal abuse is just as damaging as physical or sexual violence–the American Psychological Association classifies all three as wartime torture methods. In their daily wars women come to view themselves as worthless and powerless and internalize the loathing. They may develop serious medical problems like depression, anorexia/bulimia, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, substance abuse and more, all while afraid to leave the abuser. A woman is ten times more likely to be murdered by her abuser in the six months after she leaves him. Those threats are dead serious, and they’re a means of control that answer the common and naïve question, “Why doesn’t she just leave him?”(Emphasis Added)

Fortunately, there is a movement that those of us in the fight against domestic violence can look to, to promote women's ability to feel comfortable and worthy in their own skin. Providing information about the inaccuracy of the obesity crisis and other weight-related scientific findings, shining a light on medical abuse, debunking of stereotypes about fat people, and creating a safe community for women to celebrate their bodies are just a few of the things the Fat Acceptance movement has to offer.
More specifically, Kate Harding in The Fantasy of Being Thin, thoroughly discusses the power of the myth that having a stereotypically perfect body is somehow attached to your ability to be a good or worthy person and the fact that many times the hardest part of accepting your body is that it means accepting and appreciating all aspects of yourself.

But exhortations like that don’t take into account magical thinking about thinness, which I suspect — and the quote above suggests — is really quite common. Because, you see, the Fantasy of Being Thin is not just about becoming small enough to be perceived as more acceptable. It is about becoming an entirely different person – one with far more courage, confidence, and luck than the fat you has. It’s not just, “When I’m thin, I’ll look good in a bathing suit”; it’s “When I’m thin, I will be the kind of person who struts down the beach in a bikini, making men weep.” See also:

When I’m thin, I’ll have no trouble finding a partner/reinvigorating my marriage.
When I’m thin, I’ll have the job I’ve always wanted.
When I’m thin, I won’t be depressed anymore.
When I’m thin, I’ll be an adventurous world traveler instead of being freaked out by any country where I don’t speak the language and/or the plumbing is questionable.
When I’m thin, I’ll become really outdoorsy.
When I’m thin, I’ll be more extroverted and charismatic, and thus have more friends than I know what to do with.
Et cetera, et cetera. Those are examples from my personal Fantasy of Being Thin, but I’m sure you’ve got your own

....The thin person inside me finally got out — it just turned out she was actually a fat person. A reasonably attractive, semi-outgoing fat person who has an open mind and an active imagination but also happens to really like routine and familiarity and quiet time alone.

Embracing our bodies for what they do for us rather than punishing them into submission is a long process, but the benefits are well worth it. For a powerful introduction to celebrating yourself and living in the now, check out Joy Nash's Fat Rant Video below.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Afghan runner goes missing

ESPN is reporting that Mehboba Ahdyar, a 19-year old member of the Afghan olympic track and field team, went missing from her training camp in Italy and may be seeking political asylum in Norway.
Mehboba Ahdyar, a 19-year-old runner who competes in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters, hasn't been heard from since leaving the training center in Formia last week. Her luggage and passport also were gone.
"The IOC accepts that athletes sometimes feel they have to make hard choices to improve their lives," International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said Thursday. "It would appear this is what has happened in this case."

Ahdyar is the only woman on Afghanistan's track and field team. She competes in a headscarf and long pants. Nonetheless, the fact that she is a woman in a public space has sparked hostility from the Taliban groups that are regaining strength in Afghanistan. Ahdyar and her family have been repeatedly threatened.
Ahdyar's family of eight lives in a mud-brick house in one of the poorest parts of Kabul.
"We are scared, really scared about the security situation in our country and of the people who have negative views about my family," Ahdyar's mother, Moha Jan, told The Associated Press in March. "These problems cannot stop us from supporting our daughter."

While it contradicts the testimony of the Olympics officials in Italy, Afghanistan's Olympics Committee in Kabul claims that Ahdyar left camp due to a leg injury which has rendered her incapable of competing in Beijing. It is our hope that whatever has happened, Ahdyar finds happiness for her and her family, and that the rights of women continue to progress in Afghanistan despite the resurgence of Taliban forces.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why Supreme Court Justices Matter

On Wednesday, June 25th in a 6-3 vote the Supreme Court ruled to overturn the murder conviction of Dwayne Giles . In the original trial, a police officer read the statements of Brenda Avie from a police report that was filed a few weeks before the murder in which Avie states that Giles had threatened to kill her. This action allegedly violated Giles' rights when he was not allowed to "confront" his accuser. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the reason for her absence is no longer a mitigating factor. David Savage of the Los Angeles Times predicted the ruling.
Although it sounds far-fetched, Giles's claim could prevail in the Supreme Court. The court took up of the case of Giles v. California to test the outer limits to the so-called confrontation right in the Sixth Amendment. It says, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to be confronted with the witnesses against him."

Until 2004, judges usually allowed jurors to hear "reliable" second-hand accounts of what witnesses said if the witness was not available. For example, a police officer could report on what a missing witness had said. But in a case that year, Justice Antonin Scalia insisted this "hearsay" violated the defendant's rights under the Sixth Amendment. "Where testimonial statements are at issue, the only [test] of reliability ... is the one the Constitution actually prescribes: confrontation," Justice Scalia said at the time in Crawford v. Washington.

During yesterday's argument, Justice Scalia said the court should stick to a no-exceptions rule. He said Giles's rights were violated because a police officer had testified at his trial that the murder victim, Brenda Avie, had said Giles threatened to kill her.

And indeed, it is Justice Scalia who's majority opinion is being quoted.

Justice Antonin Scalia said in his majority opinion that domestic violence, though "an intolerable offense," does not justify "abridging the rights of criminal defendants."

The police report in question details an incident in which police were called to a domestic disturbance and found Brenda Avie and Dwayne Giles engaged in an argument. Brenda Avie appeared to have a "bump on her head" and told police that Giles had flashed a knife and threatened to kill her. Giles has confessed to shooting Avie and fleeing the scene but claims it was in self-defense. Justice Stephen Breyer echos in his dissent what this blogger feels about the ruling.

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said the court should have ruled that defendants forfeit their constitutional right to confront witnesses when they are responsible for the witness' absence from trial. Wednesday's ruling, Breyer said, "grants the defendant not fair treatment, but a windfall."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Infrequent Posting

I just wanted to apologize for the lack of posting and let everyone know that my contract with Women's Resource Center will end July 25th. Because of that I'm in wrap-up mode with all of the projects I started and so life will be kind of hectic from now until the end of my term. Unfortunately, that means that posts here will be infrequent until I'm done at WRC. I'm hoping to continue to post weekly for the next month.

However, once my contract is up posting should resume as a daily event. We appreciate your patience.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Giving yourself a break

Katherine Stone at Postpartum Progress has written a very personal and important post for any parent or guardian, not just those who have suffered from PPD. You should head over and read the whole thing, but I believe her conclusion sums it up quite nicely.
The truth is every mom does something (what's the present tense of wrought? wringing?) that could surely be used against her by her children someday in a therapy session. My son may be at a disadvantage in some way because of my illness. I'll never really know I guess. But I do know that I did my best. I do know that I sought help as soon as possible. I do know that I faked it til I made it. I do know that he's a great reader, a good swimmer, a nice big brother, a cool Lego builder, very witty and absolutely gorgeous. He knows I love him and I know he loves me, and that we're both pretty good people. That's all I've got and I need to keep hold of it. Let the chips fall where they may.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

In Response to Dangers of Domestic Violence Calls

Recently on Police Link, which bills itself as the Nation's Law Enforcement Community, a post entitled Dangers of Domestic Violence Calls detailed some of the hazards police officers face when responding to domestic violence calls and offered tips for those officers to minimize the risks to their personal safety. The idea of this post is quite useful. Part of domestic violence response training for police officers should include training on how to preserve their own lives. Police officers are in danger everytime they respond to any type of call and each department should equip their officers with all of the knowledge necessary to avoid being hurt or killed in the line of duty.

Unfortunately, the author of this particular piece seems to have a special contempt for domestic violence calls. Even from the first line, it's clear that they find dv calls to be more troubling than any other disturbance.
Don't discount DV calls as routine. It just takes one to get you killed.

This line seems to assume that, for example, a traffic stop can't get you killed. Many "routine" duties of a police officer can very well get you killed. That's why it is such a difficult and noble profession.

The author then proceeds to recount the (unsourced) story he/she has read about a police officer being shot by an abuser after they had responded to a domestic violence call, which leads the author to expand upon their experienced based tips on handling "domestics". With each tip category's introduction, it is clear that the author needs more training on the nature of domestic violence, and feels that the victims bring their troubles on themselves.

Exercise Caution
Consider this: There's a reason that you're called to a location. The transition from domestic bliss to domestic violence can take place in the blink of a wandering eye and the person requesting your presence often has some legitimate expectation of getting his or her ass beat. And the person who may inflict such harm might not care who's on the receiving end.(Emphasis Added)

This entire paragraph demonstrates the mindset that domestic violence is the result of one incident (that is the fault of the victim) that pushes an otherwise rational human being "over the edge". Let us be clear, this is patently false. Domestic violence is systematic terroristic behavior. A person who manages to survive in a violent relationship is well-studied in the behaviors that do not upset their significant other. The problem with this type of safety plan is that the violence is not truly related to emotional responses. It isn't the result of stress, or alcohol, or infidelity. It is a thought out way to exact control over another human being and the violence will continue in some way or another no matter what the victim does. These rages are not uncontrolled episodes where the abuser "might not care who's on the receiving end." The abuser very much cares. And while the violence may spill over to a police officer, or someone else who is trying to offer help, those people are simply collateral damage to an abuser demonstrating that there is no one who can protect their victim.
Maintain Peace and Safety
If the person is on site and you're able to contact them, first determine if there's been a crime involved. Whether or not one has been committed, tell the person you're assisting to keep their mouth shut so they don't provoke the aggressor into going Jerry Springer on their ass, or more importantly, yours.

Conduct a cursory pat-down search of BOTH parties. Considering the nature of circumstances, the omnipresent threat of danger associated with such calls, the understandably agitated frame of mind of the distraught boyfriend/husband/significant other, and the possibility that one/the other/both may have a weapon to launch or prevent an attack, it shouldn't be too hard for you to justify your need for doing so.(Emphasis Added)

Here again there is the repeated theme that domestic violence is an emotional response to some sort of provocation. In addition, the emphasis is on putting responsibility on the victim to not "provoke the aggressor" rather than taking steps to effectively neutralize the abuser, i.e. the one who has actually committed a crime. The author even enters the apologist frame of mind at this point in the post, stating that the "boyfriend/husband/significant other" will have an understandably agitated frame of mind.
Personal Experience
I hate domestics, and was wounded while responding to one when an idiot ambushed another deputy and myself with an AK47. Perhaps predictably, the girlfriend we saved—the one who, along with her family, was the object of the suspect's murderous rage in the first place—pissed backward when it came time to go to court and testified on his behalf (he was still sentenced to 160 years).

Personally, I believe that the first time any person becomes a victim of domestic violence, law enforcement officers should do everything in their power to insulate them from any further attack. But the moment they go back to the abusive son of a bitch, then we should be able to wash our hands of them. Professionally we don't have that discretion: We are expected to continually run interference on behalf of these Darwin Award aspirants.

Ignoring the general tone of obvious contempt and disrespect that litters the "Personal Experience" section of this post, we can still see the continuing theme of a complete misunderstanding of the nature of domestic violence. Once again, we have to reiterate that domestic violence is systematic terroristic behavior used to control another person. If, as the author states, this abuser was not only trying to kill the victim but had also threatened to kill her family it is no way strange that she would be scared to testify and may in fact have logically felt that the only way to protect her family was to testify for the defense. It is unfortunately likely that she had had previous experience with unhelpful law enforcement and had no reason to believe that her abuser would not be right back out on the street. If the attitude of the author of this piece is consistent with his/her department, then it shouldn't shock them that she would feel that the criminal justice system would ultimately be of no help to her. The author's ludicrous Darwin Award insinuation that repeat victims of domestic violence are stupid implies that the main reason the victims return to their abusers is out of a genuine belief that things will change. In fact, the number one reason that victims return to their abusers is an economic inability to go anywhere else. Economic reasons are followed closely by the desire to protect their family and themselves. It is well documented that a woman is in the greatest danger of being killed after she leaves or attempts to leave the relationship.

Perhaps if the author really doesn't want to continue to be called out to the same locations time and time again, he/she ought to lobby for better victim's resources, more law enforcement training, or more effective domestic violence legislation rather than jumping on the victim-blaming apologist's bandwagon.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

UN Peacekeepers and Child Rape

via Shakesville

Widespread child sex abuse by UN peace troops and aid staff, says charity

The basic gyst of this article is that peace keeping troops are raping children, either by force or by coersion. Children are being pressured to sell their bodies for food and other commodities. These soldiers are abusing their authority in the worst kind of way.

If any one has any information on how to put pressure on the UN to bring these rapists to justice, I would be extremely interested in knowing. I'll google the topic some more to see if some letters can't be written to tell the United Nations what's up.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Blogging Hiatus

Sorry for the light blogging, we've been wrapping up things at work for vacation. I'll be at the beach with no internet access for the next week so unless someone else writes something there won't be any entries for a few more days.

Happy Memorial Day!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Perceived Sexual Harassment of Young Girls

A new study concerning the way sexism is perceived by young girls has been published. The authors of the study surveyed 600 girls between the ages of 12and 18, from California and Georgia who come from varied ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Ninety percent of girls reported experiencing sexual harassment at least once. Specifically, 67 percent of girls reported receiving unwanted romantic attention, 62 percent were exposed to demeaning gender-related comments, 58 percent were teased because of their appearance, 52 percent received unwanted physical contact and 25 percent were bullied or threatened with harm by a male. 52 percent of girls also reported receiving discouraging gender-based comments on the math, science and computer abilities, usually from male peers, and 76 percent of girls reported sexist comments on their athletic abilities, again predominantly from male peers.

Perhaps more important than the existence of sexism, is the way in which girls interpret the harassment. The study, which will appear in full in the May/June issue of Child Development, Vol. 79, Issue 3, under the title "Perceived Experiences with Sexism Among Adolescent Girls", notes that there are cultural factors which influence whether any given girl interprets sexist comments as an external problem (i.e. indicative of the shortcomings of the sexist) or as indicative of their own "flaws."
Girls who had been exposed to feminist ideas, either through the media or an adult such as a mother or teacher, were more likely to identify and report sexist behavior than were girls who had no information about feminism. Girls who reported feeling pressure from their parents to conform to gender stereotypes were also more likely to perceive sexism. Girls who felt atypical for their gender and/or were unhappy with stereotypical gender roles were most likely to report sexism and harassment.

Christia Brown and Campbell Leaper who authored this study noted that it is important that girls learn that sexism is an external problem because frequent sexual harassment can lead to low self-esteem and the expectation and acceptance of demeaning behaviors in heterosexual romantic relationships, and sexist remarks.

H/T Feministing

Friday, May 16, 2008

Shame on you, Judge Phillip Brown!

Via Feministing

Basically, The "Honorable" Phillip Brown has decreed that you can't be raped if you aren't a virgin.

I'm not sure exactly what I want to say about this particular matter that doesn't involve me typing expletives in all caps. Except this.

Women have the right to sexual autonomy, regardless of how they dress, regardless of how many sexual partners they've had. Women have the right to say no to boyfriends, fiances, and husbands. Even if a woman says yes to 99 men before the 100th man rapes her, its still rape.

I don't know why that's so hard to understand!

Dennis Rodman charged with domestic violence is reporting today that ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman was charged with domestic violence Wednesday for assaulting his girlfriend, Gina Peterson, in a Los Angeles hotel room last month. Rodman was arrested on April 30, after Peterson called hotel security. According to police, Ms. Peterson suffered injuries to her arm. Rodman's spokesman and attorney do not deny his culpability, but instead they are trying to minimize this serious offense with some very familiar language.
Rodman spokesman Darren Prince says Rodman had had too much to drink when he got into an altercation with Peterson. Prince says the couple are still dating.
"We look forward to a successful resolution of this misdemeanor matter," said Rodman's attorney, Paul Meyer

Having too much to drink is not an excuse for violent behavior. That they are allegedly still together is not evidence of innocence. Many women stay in abusive relationships for one reason or another, that does not excuse the abuser's past or future actions. Finally, while the charge may be a misdemeanor, Rodman's attorney is trying to make it sound like he shoplifted a candy bar. A person who made his career off of his physical abilities is accused of beating up on someone who cares about him, and is likely a great deal weaker than him. That is a serious offense even if the penalty does not reflect it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Innocence in Florida: the Wrongful Incarceration Act

The Innocence Blog had a post yesterday detailing the problems with the proposed Wrongful Incarceration Act in Florida. This piece of legislation which is currently waiting on the Governor's signature was proposed as a method of making it easier for those who are found to have been wrongfully convicted to receive financial compensation from the State without having to engage in the current legal quagmire necessary to be eligible for an amount higher than the sovereign immunity imposed $200,000 cap. While the Wrongful Incarceration Act has emerged as something that does not achieve it's primary stated goal, the main controversy is the "clean hands" portion of the Act which will prevent anyone who has been convicted of a prior unrelated felony from being able to collect any form of compensation from the State. The Tallahassee Democrat quotes Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project in Florida, who sums up the controversy quite effectively.
"You're innocent when we release you but you're not innocent enough to be compensated?" said Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida. "These two ideas just don't jibe together."

While this statement very concisely explains the Act's opposition, perhaps an example mentioned earlier in the same article better highlights exactly what kind of people will no longer be eligible for compensation.
Orlando Boquete, who in 2006 was exonerated from a sexual battery and burglary conviction based on DNA evidence, won't have an easy road to compensation either. The new law prevents those with prior felonies from receiving automatic compensation, but Boquete's prior felony is a conviction for escaping while serving his wrongful imprisonment.

It's important that states like Florida and others are beginning to publicly deal with the reality of wrongfully convicted individuals. I hope this is a continuing trend. However, this particular piece of legislation is truly a step backwards.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Every Day Activism: Speak up!

First off, I have to admit that this topic is so terrifying to me that I am having trouble trying to appropriately form this blog post.

The thing is, what I am about to suggest is so mundane, and so obvious, that I am wondering why I feel such fear. And I know why. Its the same fear I've felt, and I'm sure many others feel, when they are about to speak their mind about a topic or course of action they know will probably be unpopular.

I keep telling myself that this blog has a small readership, that most people will be sympathetic to what I'm about to say. But still, I'm feeling slightly queasy, and I'm finding I'm using the backspace button a little more than usual.

And all I want to say is, that I encourage everyone to be brave enough to look their friends and family in the eye and say, "That's not funny."

"What's not funny?" you may ask. Oh my goodness, a myriad of things. I feel like I have been asked to be complicit to hateful speech dealing with class, race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, differently-abled people, etc. ad nauseum. Yes, until I get sick. I cannot count the times when all I wanted to do is look at some one and say, "That's not funny" and have been stricken to my very core with absolute dread about what the consequences may be.

For example, I was hanging out with some acquaintances just last week, and one was retelling a story about how he informed a female student that the only thing she was qualified to do was be a prostitute. I was outraged. I wanted to just lay into this guy. How dare he, as a person who is supposed to be encouraging this child, insinuate to her that the only thing she was good for was for some one to pay her to have sex? This person who was supposed to be teaching her, and guiding her, and opening intellectual doors for her? This person, who has age, experience, and education-- who should know that some people have difficulty learning things the way the majority of us do-- how could he tell her that? Instead, my eyes got wide, and I said "You did not!" And the other people around us continued to joke and laugh about it-- and I just... stood there, because I was afraid. I didn't used to be so scared of telling people what I thought, but that was before I realized that people generally don't like their opinions being questioned-- and often will react violently if some one dares to do so. I have lost friends, been called various names, and been made to feel like I was wrong for wanting to protect people, for believing that everyone is flesh and blood and has feelings like me. Furthermore, I have been chastised by family and friends who were embarrassed when I felt the need to point out that someone was being a bigot. Getting folks to think about why we feel fearful when confronting hateful speech, or why we defend the speakers is basically the goal of this post. Why are we so afraid of offending those who clearly mean to cause offense to others?

I'm just speaking from personal experiences, but I think there is a couple of reasons why intelligent folk will all stand around and listen to bigoted speech and ideas. (You may notice that a lot of the examples that I am about to talk about deal with sexist speech/ideas. I tend to give examples of the speech that hurts me personally, because I can best speak to that experience.) Firstly, I think people who say "shocking" things are seen as cool and edgy. They don't feel constrained by the manners that permeate polite society. Maybe it seems they are just saying "what everyone else is thinking". Secondly, I think we're afraid of seeming too "sensitive". Its becoming less socially acceptable to be empathetic. Thirdly, we don't want to become targets ourselves.

To address the first issue, I've got news for all of you-- picking on people who have less privilege than you do isn't really all that edgy-- its in fact just taking a crack at easy prey. Its reinforcing old stereotypes-- dare I say it, its backwards thinking. Example: going to a rally for Hillary Clinton with a sign that reads "Iron my shirt." That's not edgy, my friends! That's not gutsy, that does not take courage. All that takes is a poster board, a marker, and an ideology that says that women should not have power, they should be at home taking care of men, and their children.

Addressing the second and third issues, by not saying anything, by not disagreeing with some one when they say something you know to be degrading, humilating and damaging to another group of human beings, you are being complicit with the ideas being espoused. And this is what happens, y'all. One person says something that's hateful and degrading. And then the people around them laugh and joke-- and validate that person's opinion. If a person's idea about the world is never challenged by those closest to him or her, what incentive does he or she have to change? If those who disagree are seen as the "other", people outside this persons realm of influence, its easier for the speaker to believe that their opinion is acceptable. And sometimes that opinion is really quite dangerous. You would probably hesitate to become friends with a convicted rapist, but would you sit idly by a friend wearing a Its not Rape; Its Suprise Sex! t-shirt?

It may be easy to say, its just a t-shirt! Its a free country! People have the right to say what they want! But then you have become complicit to the idea that rape victims shouldn't complain about being raped. "Its just suprise sex! Who doesn't like surprises? Its almost like the rapist gave the victim a gift!" If that type of thinking doesn't offend you, then I don't really know if I want to be talking to you. But if it does, do you want to sit idly by without adding your opinion to the dialog?

And I know we all have a friend who makes jokes that are of a questionable content, and how easy it is to make excuses for that person. Oh, dont' mind him/her, that's just the way he/she is! S/he's just joking! Its nothing personal!

Unfortunately, sometimes it feels very personal. And the more excuses we make for that friend of ours, the one that likes to tell the racist jokes, or thumps their wrists limply against their chest while saying "Retard!" or who emulates a lisp when quoting homosexuals, the more we excuse bigoted world views.

I feel I have more to say on this matter, but I'm going to leave it here for now. I realize that I have rambled on without offering any sort of advice, but the thing is, I don't know, I am still struggling with this problem. Perhaps I can revisit this issue later with a clearer idea of how to combat the fear of revealing your inner activist.

Romona Moore

Trigger Warning

As Sean Gardener reports, in Spring of 2003 a Hunter College honor student named Romona Moore told her mother that she was going to the Burger King down the street and would return shortly. When Romona had not returned by the next morning, her mother Elle Carmichael called 911. The police grudgingly agreed to file a missing persons complaint, but said that Carmichael would have to call the precinct after 7pm (the 24-hour mark of Ramona's disappearance) to prompt an official investigation. That evening when Carmichael called the precinct as she was told, the grieving mother was informed that no complaint should have been filed, the case was being marked "closed," and no further action would be taken.
Instead, it was Romona Moore's life that was closed. While detectives were offering reasons why they couldn't start an investigation, she spent nearly four days chained up in a basement only a few blocks from her home. She was repeatedly raped and tortured by two young psychopaths who eventually beat her to death on the day that the police grudgingly started searching for her. Her family's amateur investigation found her before the police did.

The family made up missing person fliers which they posted all around the neighborhood. They called Romona's friends and canvassed the area she was last seen in. Their efforts revealed that she had stopped at a friend's house on the way to the Burger King, but had probably never made it to the restaurant. They also called the media (who declined to get involved) and their local politicians who put pressure on the police to investigate. Four days after the initial report, the police department agreed to open an investigation. However, the department's official stance on the issue was that Romona had runaway and did not want to be found. The department and Det. Wayne Carey (the officer assigned to the case) took this attitude despite the fact that Romona had no history of irresponsible behavior and had never missed a day at school. Carey's own recounting of the last phone call he had with Carmichael before Romona's body was found reveal the mindset he was operating from.
"She said to me she didn't like the way I was handling the case, and I wasn't doing enough," Carey testified during the murder trial while being grilled by defense attorneys about the police investigation. "I said . . . 'I have done everything you've asked me to do. I've looked everywhere. I've talked to everyone you wanted me to. I can't find her. I can't find your daughter. She doesn't want to be found. I can't find her. I'm not a magician. I cannot pull her out of my hat.' I said, 'If I could, I would.' And after that, we—I have not spoken to her since." [emphasis added]

As it turns out, Romona was being held captive, tortured, and eventually murdered just a few blocks from her home. The two men who kidnapped Romona, Troy Hendrix and Kayson Pearson, felt so confident about what they were doing that they even showed her off to visitors. Romando Jack, then 19 is the last person other than Hendrix and Pearson who saw Romona alive.
As they sat on a couch passing a joint, Jack later recalled, Hendrix said out loud: "Say hi, bitch." Baffled, Jack asked: "Who y'all talking to?" Hendrix and Pearson pulled up a tarp on the floor, and under it was Romona Moore, lying on her side, dressed only in a hoodie and underwear. Romona's hands were tied behind her back, and she had a chain around her neck. There were bandages on a wrist and ankle, covering up wounds the pair had inflicted while trying to saw off her limbs. Romona was bleeding from a cut near her nose; her face was beaten and puffy. The men had cut the webbing between her fingers. Three cigarette burns formed a triangle under one eye.

Jack testified that Hendrix and Pearson made Romona recount the details of her abduction and subsequent daily torture. Afterwards, Jack attended a baby shower and then drove home to Maryland without mentioning to anyone what he had seen. He testified that he was "scared." Including the horrifying details of Romona's condition is key here in demonstrating the level of violence involved. Romando Jack was not the only person to see Romona in this condition, yet no one offered so much as an anonymous tip until it was too late. If those circumstances aren't enough to make someone come forward, what is? Cara at Feministe weighs in on this issue, stating:
There are many reasons that people do nothing, and sometimes they are justified. It may be believed (often very rightly) that doing the “right thing” will result in more violence or more severe consequences than turning a blind eye. Sometimes one’s own life is on the line. But I don’t see that this was the case here, either for the police officers that refused to even open an investigation, or for the man — probably numerous men — who saw Moore after she had been tortured raped and was probably about half-dead, and did nothing. Not even an anonymous phone call . . . that is, not before it was too late.

I read stories like these, and I find myself wondering where the hell the good people who do something are. And sometimes I wonder how “good” we can really call the people to do nothing. SAFER has an excellent post about bystander training and learning to be the person who does something. Despite our hunches and hopes for ourselves, I don’t think that any of us truly know if we are that person until put in the position. But at the very least, I want to believe that we can learn from the fatal mistakes of others.

Weeks after her disappearance, an anonymous call was made to Elle Carmichael indicating the location of Romona's body. Carmichael called the police but was told that no one was available to respond at that time. When the police finally arrived on the scene, Romona's family had already discovered the body. Protests (which largely fell on deaf ears)were held in front of the 67th precinct to have Det.Casey removed from his position, and "Romona's Law" was proposed by City Councilmen. Earlier this month, after five years of fighting, a Federal Court judge has ruled that there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a racial bias lawsuit against the NYPD on behalf of Romona and her family.

Detective Wayne Carey was eventually removed from his position at the 67th Precinct. He was promoted to the Brooklyn South Homicide task force for helping to solve Romona's murder. Carmichael's case is only in the preliminary stages of gathering evidence, but her and her attorney's are confident they will be able to prove a pattern of discrimination.

"I don't see any other reason but race and class," Carmichael says of the lack of initial response by the NYPD to the case of her missing daughter. "If this was a white kid, they would never had done this. I had to say to the detectives one day: 'You know, I feel the same emotions and pain as a white person.' "

H/T Feministe

Monday, May 12, 2008

Middle School Students Attack Assistant Principal

Police charged two 13-year-old Calverton Middle School students with attempted rape after they broke into their school and assaulted one of the assistant principals.

The administrator was able to fight off the students and call police. The students were indentified using footage from the school's security camera, and arrested when they showed up for school the following day.

The students' bravado in showing up to school 24 hours after the attack makes clear that they felt there would be no consequences for their actions.
Head of the city's teacher' union Marietta English said what happened at Calverton over the weekend is another example of what's gone wrong.

"It goes back to these students thinking there is no consequence for their behavior. They came back to school on Monday thinking that they were going to go to class as usual. They didn't think anything was going to happen to them. It's ridiculous," she said.

When things like this happen, how can anyone still claim that our society doesn't make light of violence against women?

Dr. Andres Alonso, CEO of Baltimore schools, has one piece of wisdom and hope to interject into the scenario.
I think it's tragic for a school...everytime a school has an incident like this it is devastating. And I think it's tragic in the life of the child. We cannot forget that every incident is an opportunity to intervene.

This why we keep this blog. "Every incident is an opportunity to intervene." Every incident has the potential to be a learning experience and a chance for us to improve. That being said, it is interesting that there is so much focus on how sad this incident is for the perpetrators and the other students with very little being said about the well-being of the assistant principal. And while we appreciate that steps are being taken to examine how these kids might be rehabilitated, and highlight the effect that violence has on the community at large; it is a fine line to walk between victim blaming and denying the significance of the victims' experience.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Life Imitates "Art"

Last month we talked about Abortion Man , a "superhero" brought to you by Damon Wayans' WayOutTV. Abortion Man's evidently hilarious superpower was to, at the behest of hesitant fathers, beat up pregnant women until they miscarried. I said it then and I'll say it now, violence against women is not funny.

It's disgusting, and not just because I'm a humorless feminist, but because of tragedies like this .
A judge sentenced two teens to life in prison for a beating that injured a pregnant woman and killed her unborn child.

Alfonso Price, 16, and Jebrell Wright, 17, will be eligible for parole in 23 years for their convictions on murder, felonious assault and kidnapping charges in the July 2007 attack. Authorities said the pair attacked 18-year-old Kerria Anderson, who told Price she was pregnant at the time with his unborn child.

The teens stomped Anderson in the hallway of an Over-The-Rhine apartment building after she refused to get an abortion, investigators said, and the fetus suffered fatal injuries. [emphasis mine]

Alfonso Price was a child himself when this incident occurred. Teenagers shouldn't have to be parents, and he may have been feeling scared or desperate and no one could blame him. But that does not excuse his actions. Price could have chosen to wait for DNA testing, to push for adoption, to try to have further discussions about abortion, or he probably had the privilege of simply choosing to walk away. Instead, we live in a society that is so hostile towards women that a 16-year old and his friend can discuss the situation and agree that the best plan they can come up with is to "stomp" on a pregnant girl on the chance that she will miscarry or at least be scared enough to have an abortion.

It's my view that "humor" like Abortion Man is one of the reasons we live in a society where this type of thing can happen. We make light of violence against women everyday and this is where it gets us. Two teenagers' lives are ruined, and one will probably never be the same again and it isn't funny.

To Kerria Anderson, all I can say is that I don't understand and I don't know what you're going through, but I hope that you get the support you need to move forward and feel safe again.

DNA testing has since shown that Alfonso Price was in fact not the father.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Part 5 Innocence in Mississippi

The State of Mississippi is fortunately encountering pressure from the community to remove Dr. Steven Hayne, whose false testimony led to the wrongful conviction of both Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer, as medical examiner. The Innocence Project has already filed an official complaint against Dr. Hayne.
For months, Mississippi medical examiner Steven Hayne has come under fire for years of false forensic testimony, unethical methods, nepotism and potential illegal activities. His flawed autopsies led two innocent men to spend a combined three decades in prison before they were exonerated earlier this year. He claims to work 110 hours a week and conduct 1,500 autopsies a year – earning him more than a million dollars annually.

On Sunday, the Hattiesburg American posted an editorial criticizing the state of Mississippi's slow response to what is truly a serious problem. The author of the editorial quotes three different district attorneys who say that they have found no problems with Dr. Hayne's work and are sure that he hasn't been a problem in their district. This response comes despite the fact that Dr.Hayne claims to perform on average 1500 autopsies each year. The recommended average by the National Association of Medical Examiners is 250 per year with an absolute maximum of 325. Given these numbers, the author of the editorial asks, how can the district attorneys be confident in the results?
"I have found him to be competent. I think he's qualified and I have encountered no problems or irregularities," said Jon Mark Weathers, district attorney for Forrest and Perry counties.

Jones County District Attorney Tony Buckley concurred.

"I don't think any of his actions he's being investigated for affects our district, in my opinion," Bowen said. "I just don't see a problem with him in this district."

Covington County District Attorney Eddie Bowen also said he had no issue.

This strikes as three ostriches putting their heads in the sand. How can these DA's be at all confident in Hayne's work given the information that has come out about the pathologist?

I hope that the only motivation behind these reactions is a desire to maintain a calm working environment. However, I can't help but suspect that due to the high potential for rampant lawsuits these DAs along with other state officials may want to avoid exposing flaws in their system and therefore uncovering large numbers of wrongful convictions. I realize that most state governments are strapped for cash and that a large number of overturned convictions could be a public relations nightmare as well as a financial one, but freeing innocent people is just simply more important than all of that.

Monday, May 5, 2008

International Violence Against Women Act

Here in the United States the Violence Against Women Act has provided many invaluable resources to domestic violence survivors. While there is room for improvement, and an on-going movement to protect VAWA's funding, we must remember that violence against women is a global epidemic. Apart from being a gross human rights violation, widespread violence against women actually stunts the economic growth of a nation.
Violence prevents women from:

Working: Violence reduces a woman's ability to work and provide for her family. In India, for example, a survey revealed that women who experienced even a single incident of violence lost an average of seven working days.
Staying at Work: In Kenya, 95 percent of the women who had experienced sexual abuse in their workplace were afraid to report the problem for fear of losing their jobs.
Getting an Education: Research shows that violence against women - including sexual assault, intimidation, and abuse - takes place in schools. Girls who are exposed to or experience violence are less likely to complete their education. A study in Nicaragua found that children of female victims of violence left school an average of four years earlier than other children.
Building Strong Communities: Women who experience violence are less able to benefit from and contribute to healthy communities.

The international situation parallels the plight of domestic violence survivors in the United States. According to, studies show that a domestic violence survivor's degree of financial independence is the best predictor of whether or not she will return to her abuser. The CDC estimates that, "Victims of intimate partner violence lose 8,000,000 days of paid work each year--the equivalent of over 32,000 full-time jobs and 5,600,000 days of household productivity."
The good news is that violence against women is preventable and that there are proven solutions that work. The International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), if passed, would, for the first time, comprehensively incorporate these solutions into all U.S. foreign assistance programs - solutions such as promoting women's economic opportunity, addressing violence against girls in school, and working to change public attitudes. Among other things, the IVAWA would make ending violence against women a diplomatic priority for the first time in U.S. history. It would require the U.S. government to respond to critical outbreaks of gender-based violence in armed conflict - such as the mass rapes now occuring in the Democratic Republic of Congo - within two months. And by investing in local women's organizations overseas that are succesfully working to reduce violence in their communities, the IVAWA would have a huge impact on reducing poverty - freeing millions of women in poor countries to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty.

We have the power at home and abroad to send the message that violence against women will not be tolerated. For a concise explanation of IVAWA and to sign the petition of support, please visit Women Thrive Worldwide.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Innocent man released from Prison after 27 years

Charles Chatman is the 15th prisoner to be released in Dallas County after DNA evidence, preserved by the Southwest Institute of Forensic Sciences, proved his innocence. He was a free man as of May 15, 2008. Sadly, Chatman was up for parole on three separate occasions-- and was denied all three times because he maintained he did not commit the 1981 rape that resulted in his imprisonment.

The New York Times reports Chatman is not angry at the woman who identified him as her rapist, but instead angry at the system which kept him wrongly imprisoned.

According to The Innocence Project, There have been 216 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United states since 1989. Factors that lead to wrongful conviction include incorrect eye-witness testimony, lab error, junk science, false confessions, and the use of "snitches", or jailhouse informants who would receive special treatment or lesser punishments for providing testimony, no matter what its veracity.

Unfortunately, due to these factors, innocent people spend time in jail- years of their lives that can never be regained. Even more tragic is that some innocent prisoners may be put to death due to faulty evidence. Sixteen of the 216 prisoners exonerated thus far have spent time on death row. Surely, since America claims so vociferously to be a 'culture of life', 16 innocent men who came very close to receiving death penalty is shameful to us indeed.

Thankfully, The Innocence Project has a list of priority reforms that can help cut down on wrongful convictions, and a list of things anyone can do to help keep innocent people out of prison.

Petition for Melanie Blocker-Stokes MOTHERS Act

Via Postpartum Progress

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance's online petition supporting the Melanie Blocker Stokes Mothers Act for postpartum depression was up to 13,000 signers as of April 30th.

The Mothers Act is meant to:
• Encourage the Department of Health and Human Services to expand the research into the causes of postpartum conditions and find treatments.
• Establish a national public awareness campaign to increase awareness and knowledge of PPD and psychosis.
• Make grants available for programs that develop and offer essential services to women with PPD.

According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance there has been an on-line movement against the Act under the mistaken belief that it is a push to require new mothers to take medication when in fact it is just a push to increase funding for a better understanding of PPD, expand funding oppurtunities for those who provide PPD support services, and create new support services.

Each year more than 800,000 women develop a diagnosable postpartum mood disorder and we still no very little about the cause. Please click here and sign the petition today, it only takes a minute and it can make a big difference.

Take it Seriously Part 3: Aarone Thompson

Deidra at Black and Missing but not Forgotten has posted the story of Aarone Thompson, a 6 year-old in Colorado who was killed by her father Aaron Thompson and his girlfriend Shely Lowe after years of abuse including denial of food, cruel punishment, and denial of medical care. Aarone's death is solely the fault of her father and his girlfriend. This post isn't meant to assign blame to anyone other than the abusers. What we wish to point out is that this death (and many others) could possibly have been prevented if friends, family, and other bystanders had acted on the information they had.

While the depth of the abuse the children in the Thompson-Lowe home suffered may have been unknown,the indictment against Aaron Thompson reveals a pattern of abuse that was not kept secret.

The [Lowe's]sister told a therapist that Lowe and Thompson punished Aarone for "peeing" by putting her in a coat closet. It goes on to explain that sometimes it would be part of the day, other times it would be part of the day and all through the night. The sister also remembered the last time she saw her sister, saying she was in the closet and was going to be there all night as punishment for "peeing."

Aarone's bed-wetting is also detailed in the indictment as it was Lowe's responsibility to clean her. Aarone's older sister explained that she heard Thompson giving Aarone a "whoopin'" in the middle of the night. Another sister also said Aarone got "whooped" with a belt by Thompson for "peeing" in the closet.

In two paragraphs there are three adults who have been made aware of this child's circumstances, including a therapist who ought to recognize the signs of abuse and should know what avenues to take for reporting it. In addition, the indictment goes on to report that Aarone's grandmother stated that she had never met the child and never seen any pictures. During the course of the police investigation it came to light that there were no credible reports of anyone having seen Aarone for 18 months prior to the time that Thompson reported his child missing.

So many times when any kind of domestic abuse culminates in murder, friends and family will report things that were said or done that they just didn't take seriously. Sometimes they legitimately think there is nothing to worry about, but all too often people do not intervene because they don't want to get involved in "someone else's business" and end up looking foolish.

Family violence is not a private matter. It is a blight on our community and there needs to be a visible public stance that it will not be tolerated.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lack of Posting

Sorry everyone, I'm super busy at work with our Champions for Change luncheon so there probably won't be any posting until after Wednesday (April 30th) unless someone else does it.

See you Thursday,

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Problem Solving

Deidra at Black and Missing but not Forgotten has posted an article by Lindsay Goldwert which addresses the racial disparity present in the media coverage of pregnant women killed by their partners or former partners in the United States. Goldwert begins her article with the astute observation that cases like that of Lacy Peterson have put a "white face" on this type of violence when in fact that face most often belongs to a woman of color.

According to the CDC, black women have a maternal homicide risk about seven times that of white women. Black women ages 25-29 are about 11 times more likely as white women in that age group to be murdered while pregnant or in the year after childbirth.

Goldwert proceeds to tell the stories of several young black women who were murdered by their partners while pregnant. She also points out the relationship between pregnancy and abuse and the ways in which not only societal mores, but actual public policy have contributed to this problem.
The Bush administration's welfare reform policies spent $300 million on programs to encourage marriage among low-income couples. These programs have indirectly impacted violence in the black community, says Kigvamasud'Vasht. "That money would have been better spent on education for these women so that they could support themselves without their abusive partner."

Kigvamasud'Vasht (quoted above) is the co-director of Communities Against Rape and Abuse in Seattle who also points out the societal reasons women do not report abusive behavior including fear and mistrust of law enforcement, faulty procedures for dealing with domestic disputes that often lead to the arrest of the victim, and the fear of losing their children. Apart from it just being inaccurate, the larger problem with the lack of coverage of women of color is that it frames domestic violence as simply a middle-class white issue. The CDC statistics and the fact that at WRC approximately 96% of our clientele is African-American reveals that to be false.

The fact is that limited resources is one of the main reasons women stay in violent relationships (along with the fact that leaving is the most dangerous time)and unfortunately, due to a long history of oppression, race and economic status are inextricably linked in this country. If we don't look at the problem from a realistic perspective then we can't hope to fix it, and women will just keep dying.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Expanding the definition of Rape, one state at a time.

Maryland recently became the one of nine states in the Union to decide that a woman can withdraw consent after sexual intercourse has started. Other states with similar rulings include Alaska, California, Connecticut, Kansas, Main, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Illinois, according to CNN.

One detractor of this law, Julia Morrow, claims that the new ruling will “open up the floodgates” of women claiming to have been raped. She stated during an interview on CNN: “Individuals have to start taking responsibility for their own actions, especially adults. Don’t go home with a guy, and get in bed with him, and agree to start having sex with him, and…and in the middle, all of a sudden change your mind and say its rape! I mean, it’s just ridiculous!”

Watch the interview here.

Clearly, Ms. Morrow has never been a position where intercourse has become painful, uncomfortable, or unpleasant. She has not been in a position where requests for a prophylactic have been misunderstood or ignored. A woman may have received information during intercourse which makes her realize she no longer desires to have sex. Regardless, now at least in nine states (out of fifty) it’s her choice to discontinue intercourse.

Furthermore, laws such as these allow people to take greater personal responsibility for their bodies. Instead of having to endure an experience that has become damaging and unpleasant, a woman is now able (at least in the nine states listed above) to request that her partner discontinue intercourse—and it requires that her partner be personally responsible, and honor that request.

Another criticism of this law is that Men may not be able to “stop on a dime.” The case on which this ruling was made, Baby vs. Maryland, the victim witnessed that she asked Maouloud Baby to stop because he was hurting her, and he continued for 5 to 10 seconds longer. (Read about the case at the Washington Post.)

Many feel as if this time is a “gray area” and that one cannot expect a man to immediately halt intercourse once it has begun. It is my opinion that this assertion is insulting to men and their ability to listen and empathize with their sexual partners. I think it is perfectly feasible that a man can stop sexual intercourse within seconds of being asked. Those who wish to assert otherwise are attempting to relieve the male of his responsibility of treating his partner with dignity and respect.

This is a positive step in the direction of women having full control of what happens to their bodies. There are many reasons why a person may request to stop having sex, and all are valid, and should be respected.

H/t to feministing and shakesville

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Eco-Friendly Way to Help Domestic Violence Survivors

In honor of Earth Day, Women's Resource Center invites you to participate in their easy and eco-friendly Cells for Survivors campaign to help survivors of domestic violence.

Cells for Survivors is a community-based cell phone drive of the Women’s Resource Center
to End Domestic Violence (WRC). Cell phones are collected from individuals, local businesses, schools, and community organizations and then converted into cash proceeds, which benefit WRC’s family resettlement program. In addition, the cell phone recycling program WRC has partnered with, 911 Cell Phone Bank, provides WRC with working cell phones and chargers to provide survivors with 911 access.

Your donations of cell phones support women and their children as they overcome homelessness as a result of domestic violence, transition into homes of their own, and establish a foundation of self-empowerment. Funds are disbursed to meet families’ needs of resettlement, including first month’s rent, deposits, utilities, and MARTA tokens.


-Organize a cell phone drive at your place of business/employment, worship, or recreation;
-Donate old, unwanted cell phones and phone batteries directly to WRC; and/or
-Place a collection receptacle in your place of business/employment, worship, or recreation.
For more information about Cells for Survivors, forming a cell phone drive or setting up a donation bin, or if you'd like to donate cell phones directly to WRC, please contact Rachel at 404-370-7670 ext. 104 or via e-mail at

Monday, April 21, 2008

Postpartum Health Alliance

Our partner organization, Postpartum Health Alliance is gearing up for MamaFest 2008 this May.
MamaFest 2008

Join us for our annual fundraiser, MamaFest. Timed days before Mother's Day, this is your opportunity to go out with some girlfriends, do some shopping, hear interesting discussions on mom-related topics, participate in a silent auction and see films by, for and about women at the LunaFest film festival. 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Temple Solel, 3575 Manchester Ave., Cardiff by the Sea, 92007. $20 per person in advance by 4/23 ($25 at the door). For more information, visit or call 866-348-4666 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If you're in the area you should really check it out. If you'd like to learn more about PHA or postpartum depression in general, their website is a great place to start. While you're there make sure to read PHA board member Holly Herring's article, Pregnancy Without a Plan in which she details with fearless honesty both her own struggle and the ways in which PHA helped her through a difficult time in her life. It's extremely well written and worth a read. I'll leave you with my favorite part.
Every now and then I will show up at a PPD support group meeting. I remember all too well the feelings behind those sad and frightened faces. I see these mothers with their babies and they are fighting back tears and it just hurts inside because I can relate. I KNOW how that feels. But, you know what I tell them? “You are not alone and this will end”.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Institutionalized death is not cruel and unusual

On April 16th the Supreme Court ruled that the most common form of lethal injection could not be considered cruel and unusual punishment, despite the claim that it causes unnecessary pain to the individual being executed. There is once again heightened urgency to push for fairness in the criminal justice system.
There has been a de facto moratorium on executions in the U.S. while states waited for the court’s decision in this case. Today’s decision means that the chances of an innocent person being executed are once again very real, as executions will likely resume immediately. One Innocence Project client on death row, Tommy Arthur in Alabama, was scheduled for execution before challenges to lethal injection led to a delay in the execution date. Will Alabama Gov. Bob Riley grant him the DNA testing that could prove his innocence before allowing him to be executed? Learn more about Arthur’s case here and send an email to Riley here.

The vote was 7-2. Justice John Paul Stevens voted with the majority but he wrote in his opinion that “the time for a dispassionate, impartial comparison of the enormous costs that death penalty litigation imposes on society with the benefits that it produces has surely arrived." He also cites the possibility of executing innocent people as something to be considered when taking further action on the death penalty.

In my opinion, the possibility of executing an innocent person is the only thing that really needs to be considered when asking if the death penalty should be allowed to remain as part of our criminal justice system. The system is and will always be set up by humans and will therefore be flawed and subject to mistakes. Innocent people will be convicted (though hopefully by a much smaller margin as time goes on) no matter what kind of reforms we succeed in making. While the damage that incarceration can do to a person is permanent, they at least still have their life and their liberty can be reinstated once they are exonerated.

Jill at Feministe had this to say about the ruling:
What the hell kind of country are we living in when we not only allow the state the right to execute criminals — something done in only a handful of other states with abhorrent human rights recorders, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen — but when we can’t even be bothered to make sure that our methods of execution are as humane as possible? Who are we when our standard for killing our own citizens is that the way we kill them simply cannot pose an “objectively intolerable risk of harm”?

This is sick and shameful.

Not only did the Supreme Court vote to uphold the death penalty, it is now hearing arguments on whether or not to expand the death penalty to sexual abuse cases. Make no mistake, if someone touched my child or murdered someone I cared about, I feel confident I would kill them if given the chance. I don't pretend to truly understand that kind of pain. Unfortunately, with the inherent flaws of our system there is no concrete way to know that the right person is being punished. The death penalty is not only intrinsically a moral failure, but it is also handed out disproportionately to poor defendants and defendants of color. It's time to stand up and say no to this barbaric vestige of our past.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

$5,000 reward in the case of Chioma Gray

A $5,000 reward is now being offered by the Carole Sund/Carrington Foundation for the safe return of missing 15-year old Chioma Gray who has been missing since December.
Police and the FBI say Andrew Joshua Tafoya disappeared with 15-year-old Chioma Gray to Mexico seven months after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with her.A $5,000 reward also will be paid for information leading to Tafoya's arrest and conviction.

Tafoya is suspected of stealing a white 2008 Acura from a local dealership.
The car's license plate is 6AXX928. The car was seen crossing the U.S.-Mexico border at San Ysidro.

The investigation into Chioma Gray's disappearance was stalled by unwillingness on the part of the police department to classify her as being abducted. No Amber Alert was ever issued even though the person she was last seen with was known to be violent towards her, and even if she had wanted to run away with him, at 15 she lacks the ability to consent. Let's spread the word and help Miss Gray and her family get the justice they deserve.

Authorities asked anyone with information on the case to contact the FBI at 310-477-6565 or Ventura police at 339-4400.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Part 2: Take it Seriously

Recently Wayout TV, a Damon Wayans project, put out this video on YouTube. It features a young man who, after hearing his girlfriend is pregnant, calls on Abortion Man to fix his problem. This "super hero" then proceeds to find the young man's girlfriend and repeatedly punch, kick, and stomp on her until what we are meant to believe is a bloody fetus flies across the screen.

In short, it is horrifying.

Violence against women is not funny. This video is especially egregious given the fact that women are at greater risk of violence during pregnancy than at any other time in their life. It is important to note as well given the perceived ages of the two people in the video that pregnant women between 15 and 19 are at a higher risk for homicide than any other group.

Producing this kind of "entertainment" is not edgy, or cool, or funny. It's irresponsible at best. Making light of violence against women gives tacit approval to abusers and would-be abusers, and tells the rest of society that this type of violence is really no big deal.

H/T Feministing

Friday, April 11, 2008

Part 4 Innocence in Mississippi

Dr. Steven Hayne, who performs 80% of the autopsies in the state of Mississippi and who performed the autopsies on the victims in both the Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks cases, is being exposed as a fraud by the Innocence Project. Innocence Project attorneys in Mississippi are officially calling for Hayne's license to be revoked. Hayne's misdeeds include lying under oath about his position within the medical examiners office, performing too many autopsies in a year, and making false statements concerning the conclusions of his autopsies. Given the importance of his job and the long term effect his testimony can have, Dr. Hayne's is amazingly cavalier about his indiscretions. In response to the Innocence Project asserting that while he has performed around 1500 autopsies each year, the maximum limit of the National Association of Medical Examiners is 250, Hayne told the press

Hayne said such a number is arbitrary. “There’s one group that says you shouldn’t do more than 350, and there are other groups that don’t have a limit,” he said. “Should I call the Innocence Project to see if I’ve done too many and stop?”

He estimates he works 110 hours a week. “Some people were put on this earth to party, and some people were put on this earth to work,” he said. “I’ve always worked very hard.”

Dr. Hayne fails to ever cite any group with 350 as its limit or with no limits at all. The question of quantity is central to this case given the fact that the autopsies he has performed when evaluated by independent experts is shown to be astonishingly poor. There is also a demonstrated pattern of arriving to scientifically improbably solutions in order to support the prosecutions theory of the crime. It's not surprising then that Mississippi prosecutor Forrest Allgood had this to say,
"My experience with Hayne is that 99 times out of 100 he testifies this guy died and this is how he died," Allgood said. "How is that in any way convicting innocent people?"

As the prosecutor in both the Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer cases, Allgood really should know the answer to this question. The jury convicted both men largely based on the faulty testimony of Dr. Hayne and another pathologist. These cases have thankfully held this obviously corrupt criminal justice system under the national microscope, and the fact that both Dr. Hayne and Mr. Allgood seem to have no remorse about the wrong that was done to these two men (and now it seems probably many more people as faulty autopsies done by Hayne are being discovered as a I type this for trials that have recently concluded or have not yet begun) is very unsettling. Our criminal justice system is not perfect and never can be and mistakes will happen, but when covering up those mistakes becomes more important than the rights of innocent people then maybe Mr. Allgood needs think about stepping down as well.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

PPD Prevention: Building a Support System

When possible, prevention is always the best medicine. Studies have shown that new mothers with a strong social support system in place are at much lower risk of developing significant postpartum depression than those who do not have this kind of support. At Postpartum Support International they have an essay written by RN and BSN Carolyn White entitled How You can Build Your Own Social Support Network which presents a thorough easy to understand guide to building and maintaining your social support system including surveys that you can complete to examine how you as a new mother are feeling about your experience.

The author and PSI do make it clear that this essay is meant to be preventative and that if you are currently experiencing PPD or other severe emotional symptoms, it is imperative that you consult a professional in order to receive adequate care. New mothers who are already having emotional difficulties may be too stressed out to try to begin to employ these strategies, and the thrust of the essay is the importance of reaching out and asking for help which is what they suggest current struggling new mothers do albeit in a different way.

This essay is an interesting read with information that could be applied to the lives of people from all walks of life. White begins her How-To guide with five steps that anyone regardless of pregnancy status could benefit from.
Below are five steps that will aid you in the process of developing a healthier network: taking stock of social support, naming names for social support, asking for help, persevering in support and keeping reciprocity in mind.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in her conclusion White stresses the fact that you should not feel guilty for any negative feelings you have with regard to motherhood. She also illustrates the importance of taking care of yourself in order to offer your baby the best mothering possible.
Make time and energy now to reach out to the support system you already have in place or to begin building and enhancing your support network. By taking one small step at a time you can create a little victory for yourself everyday. Getting what you need enhances your ability to give to your baby. You and your whole family will be off to a healthier start.

Having a social support system is very important period, but especially during a trying experience such as new motherhood. It's a continuing theme in my posts about PPD but I can't help it. PPD is shrouded in unnecessary shame and secrecy and just the knowledge that you are not alone can be a big help in recovering. So hold your head up high, speak out, reach out, ask for help, share your story and remember:
You are not alone. You are not to blame.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Action Alert: New Gun Control Legislation

House Bill 257, which was backed by the NRA, passed the Senate on Wednesday evening after two rounds of intense debate. The bill was originally intended to allow constables to carry their firearms into court, but an amendment to the bill could mean fatal consequences for thousands of women throughout the state of Georgia.

It was amendment two, however, that really shook things up.

It states that a person who has a license to carry a firearm can carry it "in public transportation," as long as it is not a violation of federal law. Additionally, a firearm license holder can't consume alcohol in a restaurant or other eating establishment while carrying a firearm. Under current law, guns can't be carried in any place where alcohol is served.

Thankfully, some of Georgia's lawmakers understand the danger this policy presents to domestic violence survivors as well as the population at large.
Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, spoke against the bill.
"The leading cause of death in domestic violence is gun violence," Orrock said. "Now we're opening up a whole new window to have people carrying guns and imbibing alcoholic beverages." Bartenders and waitresses won't be enforcing the prohibition against drinking and carrying a gun, Orrock said.

Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said that most of the people who have committed mass killings in America recently were not felons, and likely could have legally carried guns. "We might be asking for a tragedy on MARTA or other transit systems, and it might be the next best place to go for the fellow that is about to drop off the edge," Fort said. "Let's keep guns out of places where they don't belong."

Senator Fort even went so far as to add a third amendment that he knew would ultimately not be approved in order to stall the voting and keep the bill from passing. Unfortunately, these voices of reason are in the minority. This bill was passed at 7pm on April 3, 2008. Those in the Senate who have said that this bill only affects "law abiding citizens" with permits haven't taken into account the fact that many batterers have no criminal record and could legally obtain a concealed weapons permit. And while many women do not wish to follow through on assault or harassment charges, a weapons charge could still keep a dangerous person off the street or at least establish a documented pattern of violence. House Bill 257 has dramatically decreased the safety of public spaces, not just for survivors of domestic violence but for everyone in our community. Please contact your representatives and senators and let them know that you oppose this legislation and that it must be repealed.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Missing Girls

Black and Missing but not Forgotten has a new list of missing girls. Please take a look and contact your local police if you have any information of their whereabouts.
Zaier Henry, 16
She was last seen wearing a white blouse, blue jeans, pink high-heel shoes, pink necklace and a pink bandana on her hand. She is dark in complexion with brown eyes, black hair, about five feet one inch in height and weighs about 100 pounds, the report said.

Jo-Dian Sharpe, 15
Jo-Dian is described as a black girl with long black hair, 5 feet 4 inches tall with a slim build.

She was last seen wearing mainly black clothing.

Alyssa Lynn Egurrola, 13
Police say she was last seen wearing a white hoodie jacket with a cat symbol or Fat Cat brand logo on it, dark blue jeans and a pink backpack. She is bi-racial, 5 feet 9 inches tall, 180 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.Police say Alyssa is bi-polar and takes medication for a mood disorder. She can be aggressive if provoked but is not normally violent.

For more information on these girls or for the latest updates in these and other often overlooked cases, please visit Black and Missing but not Forgotten.

Friday, April 4, 2008

In Remembrance

40 years ago today our society lost a great force for change and an amazing person.

The 947 Years Campaign

According to the Innocence Project, more than one-third of the 215 people that have been exonerated due to DNA evidence were between 14 and 22 years of age when they were convicted. These kids have spent a combined 947 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. To raise awareness and engage young people in the fight to free the innocent and prevent wrongful convictions, the Innocence Project has launched a national campaign called 947 Years. In their Prime. In Prison. Innocent..

The campaign's website includes a two minute video, a petition to support universal access to post-conviction DNA testing, and multimedia accounts of the kids who were sent to jail for crimes they did not commit. Click here to sign the petition today, and please spread the word on your blogs and/or in your lives about this campaign as they are counting on you to keep it going.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Letter from Mama

Over at A Booblog there is a touching letter that I suggest you read in its entirety. It is a wonderful testament to the importance of talking about PPD. Below are some key excerpts.
Recently, I realized something. If something were to happen to me, my own daughter may not know the truth. She may see this blog some day and think that everything turned out fine. She may some day, have a child of her own. She may some day, struggle with postpartum depression. I would be horrified to think that she might say "well, my own mother dealt with it stoically, therefore I must as well".

Anjukutty, I do not expect us to be friends. Ever. I want to be your mother - the one to guide you and share life with you. But not as your friend. You will have many, many friends in your life. I might be a sort of friend, on a lesser scale, but I will always, always be your mother first. This means that I may tell you things that you do not want to hear. On the other hand, friends have to a tendency to tell you only the things you want to hear. You can always come to me for an honest opinion, that you may or may not desire. But it will be honest and only with pure intentions for I only have your best interest at heart.

I have been taking Zoloft and that has helped. In addition, I am still trying my best to eat healthy, go for walks and keep active while I wait for my body to get back to normal. Reading, writing and knitting have taken on an even greater importance for me as a means for relaxation. Lately, I have felt that I am getting more normal and that my hormones are settling down. I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

She's right to write this letter to let her daughter know she isn't alone if she experiences PPD. There is so little common knowledge out there about postpartum depression. Even though as much as 20% of mothers experience it, many women feel like they are all alone and that there is no "light at the end of the tunnel." No matter what our story is about we have a responsibility to share it. We need each other and your experience matters.