Monday, March 31, 2008

Postpartum Progress

As part of our work with Postpartum Health Alliance, I'd like to highlight a blog called Postpartum Progress.

Written by Katherine Stone, Postpartum Progress is the most widely-read blog in the United States on the subject of postpartum illnesses. Through this blog, Stone offers an amazing variety of resources including books, articles in the media, event notifications, and personal stories of support. Apart from the obvious utility of the resources Postpartum Progress provides, I think perhaps what makes Postpartum Progress so engaging is Stone's ability to be honest when relating painful and private moments of her past including thoughtful discussions about anti-depressants and hospitalization. She has probably saved countless lives just by showing women that they are not alone and that they can get through this difficult time.

If you have ever wanted to become more informed about this important and pervasive issue, Postpartum Progress is definitely the place to start. As a small sampling of Stone's work, I'll leave you with some entries from the Reader's Favorites section of Postpartum Progress.

5 Things Every New Mother Should Know About PPD
Postpartum Depression and the Glint of Judgment
Straight Talk About Hospitalization and Postpartum Depression

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rape is the rapist's fault

A national poll in Ireland shows that a large percentage of people believe that rape survivors bear some or all of the blame for their attack.

More than 30% think a victim is some way responsible if she flirts with a man or fails to say no clearly.

10% of people think the victim is entirely at fault if she has had a number of sexual partners.

37% think a woman who flirts extensively is at least complicit, if not completely in the wrong, if she is the victim of a sex crime.

One in three think a woman is either partly or fully to blame if she wears revealing clothes.

38% believe a woman must share some of the blame if she walks through a deserted area.

Cliona Saidlear, policy officer at Rape Crisis Network Ireland told the press that the results of this study account for the fact that Ireland has the lowest rape conviction rate in Europe.
“We as a society need to have this discussion. It is not just about what other people can do, these are attitudes we can change ourselves because this is not acceptable. If people are thinking somehow because you are drunk or wear certain clothes you are inviting rape then it makes it even harder for a woman to report what happened. You can see this in the massive levels of under-reporting by the victims of rape.”

This statement could just as well have been directed at an American audience. In a nation where this passes for journalism, and this passes for a harmless prank, we can't deny a serious problem of victim blaming with regard to violence against women. Fortunately, the study did show some hope in the fact that younger people were much more likely to place the blame solely on the perpetrator.

Via Feministing

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

No way to know

According to a New York Times article, the general consensus is that there is no way to know how many innocent people are currently serving time or on death row. While that is not really a new revelation, the fact that at least one member of the US Supreme Court seems to see no need for reform within our justice system is disturbing news to me.
A couple of years ago, Justice Antonin Scalia, concurring in a Supreme Court death penalty decision, took stock of the American criminal justice system and pronounced himself satisfied. The rate at which innocent people are convicted of felonies is, he said, less than three-hundredths of 1 percent — .027 percent, to be exact.
That rate, he said, is acceptable. “One cannot have a system of criminal punishment without accepting the possibility that someone will be punished mistakenly,” he wrote. “That is a truism, not a revelation.”

Now call me an idealist, but I consider even one innocent person having years of their life taken away, or being put to death for a crime they didn't commit to be a serious problem that shouldn't be light-heartedly dismissed in an effort to seem tough and intellectual. But my philosophical disagreements aside, Scalia's math is decidedly fuzzy. As Mr. Liptak and the Innocence Blog both point out, Judge Scalia is getting this .027 statistic by using the discredited methodology of dividing an estimate of the number of exonerated prisoners, almost all of them in murder and rape cases, by the total of all felony convictions.
As [University of Michigan law professor Samuel]Gross points in a recent law review article: “By this logic, we could estimate the proportion of baseball players who’ve used steroids by dividing the number of major league players who’ve been caught by the total of all baseball players at all levels: major league, minor league, semipro, college and Little League — and maybe throwing in football and basketball players as well.”

Applying more logical methods, Gross estimates the rate of wrongful conviction of death row cases to be more along the lines of 2.3% to 5%. A recent study of randomly selected cases in Virginia showed a possible rate of 9%. The Innocence Project states the rate could be even higher due to the fact that many crimes are not always dependent on biological evidence and therefore it is harder to prove someone's innocence.
The Innocence Project has always said that DNA exonerations are just the tip of the iceberg, since only 5-10% of all criminal cases involve biological evidence that can be subjected to DNA testing (and even in those cases, the evidence is often lost, destroyed or too degraded to yield results in DNA testing). But the 215 wrongful convictions overturned to date by DNA testing illustrate the broader causes of wrongful conviction and show the need for reforms that can prevent injustice.

Despite the possibility that, even if the low number of 2.3% is applied, over the last three decades 185,000 people have spent time in jail or been killed for crimes they did not commit, Justice Scalia remains optimistic, writing:“Reversal of an erroneous conviction demonstrates not the failure of the system but its success.” He seems happy to ignore the fact that without the tireless efforts of groups like the Innocence Project these erroneous convictions would probably never be discovered by the "system" he so praises.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Do you know this woman?

Over at Black and Missing but not Forgotten, Deidra has posted a new story about an unidentified woman whose remains were found in La Vergne, TN back in November 2007. An autopsy determined that the woman was shot in the head and stabbed repeatedly. Her arms and legs were also bound with a green cord similar to that of a yard trimmer. Unfortunately, La Vergne police are still unable to identify the victim which has made it impossible to track down her killer. They not giving up however, and they have released a reconstruction of her face in the hopes that someone will recognize her.

According to La Vergne police the woman was probably killed in April or May 2007. The autopsy revealed that she was an African-American female between the ages of 25 and 47 and approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall. Several pieces of jewelry were also found at the scene including an Avon bracelet with at least eight feline photos in it, a bracelet with ceramic beads bound with a dark cord, and a ring believed to be gold-plated with light blue and amber-colored stones.

If you have any information on the identity of this woman, please call the La Vergne Police Department at 615-793-7745. Even if you have no new information, reposting this story would be a big help, as someone has to recognize her. Also, visit the original story at Black and Missing to view other related links including video of the jewelry found at the scene.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Domestic Violence is never okay


This month, two players for the Pittsburgh Steelers were charged in separate domestic violence incidents within 11 days of one another. However, while wide receiver Cedrick Wilson was released from his contract, linebacker James Harrison is being allowed to remain with the team. Both men assaulted the mother of their children. Both men were charged with simple assault. There appear to be only two differences between these men. The first is Harrison's alleged motivation.
"What Jimmy Harrison was doing and how the incident occurred, what he was trying to do was really well worth it," [Dan] Rooney [team chairman] said of Harrison's initial intent with his son. "He was doing something that was good, wanted to take his son to get baptized where he lived and things like that. She said she didn't want to do it."

Harrison is charged with breaking down the door to his girlfriend's home, breaking her cell phone in half as she attempted to call 911, and slapping her in the face, knocking off her glasses. Apparently, this kind of conduct is perfectly acceptable in the NFL if it is done for religious reasons. As Feministing's Vanessa Valenti notes,
While the Steelers are getting quite the rep for violence against women as of late, the team managers have turned a blind eye to a player slapping his girlfriend because what he was trying to do "was really well worth it."

When the Steelers were accused of condoning domestic violence they released a statement to "clarify" that they do not approve of domestic violence for any reason, but that "Each incident must be considered on a case-by-case basis."
Melissa McEwan at Shakesville brought up another interesting difference between these two players' "cases" that is worth examining.
....[W]hat's also notable is that the man who was released from his contract assaulted his ex-girlfriend, while the man who was retained on the team assaulted his current girlfriend—and undoubtedly the still-pervasive attitude that domestic violence is "between a man and his woman" affected the decision. As long as she stays with him, as long as she's willing to suffer the abuse, that's "their" business.

The ex-girlfriend, by virtue of her "ex" status, no longer belonged to Wilson, so it's easy to see why his hitting her was wrong. But things are always muddier, somehow, when it's a current girlfriend or wife, which signifies our collective belief that men still have some ownership of women with whom they're in a relationship, and therefore have more right to do ugly things to them than men who don't have any claim over them.

Many women in domestic violence situations feel judged by the outside world because of the pervasive societal notion that if they are unhappy, they should "just leave." There are many reasons that women do not leave violent relationships. There are economic considerations, emotional attachment, the societal belief that a "broken home" is bad for children, and family pressures. A less expected but very prevalent reason that women stay in violent relationships is safety. Abusers often threaten to kill their victims, themselves, their victim's family, and/or their children if they ever try to escape or expose the abuse. Also, statistically a woman in a violent relationship is most likely to be killed after she leaves or while she is in the process of leaving.

Given this societal prejudice it would not be surprising if that was a real factor in the Steeler's "case-by-case" decision to keep Harrison on the team. Email the Steelers or call their administrative offices at (412) 432-7800 and tell them that there is no case in which condoning violence against women is appropriate.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

New Partner Organization!

Post Partum Health Alliance has joined us a partner organization! PHA is a San Diego based organization who provides support groups, information, a "warmline", and other support services that remind moms who are going through post partum difficulties: "You are not alone."

Post Partum Health Alliance is an all-volunteer organization that does not receive any government funding. Their sole source of financial support is donations from private citizens.

If you're in the area, be sure to check out MamaFest2008, or
drop them a line to find out how you can help.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Women's bodies are not public property

Two years ago in Oklahoma, Riccardo Ferrante, now 34, followed a 16 year-old girl through a Target. He snuck up behind her and without her knowledge managed to situate his camera in such a way that allowed him to take photos under her skirt.

Last week Oklahoma's Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in a 4-1 decision that this did not constitute a crime. Blogger Lawhawk has posted the "Peeping Tom" statute under which Ferrante was originally charged.
Every person who uses photographic, electronic or video equipment in a clandestine manner for any illegal, illegitimate, prurient, lewd or lascivious purpose with the unlawful and willful intent to view, watch, gaze or look upon any person without the knowledge and consent of such person when the person viewed is in a place where there is a right to a reasonable expectation of privacy, or who publishes or distributes any image obtained from such act, shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony.

It was the majority opinion of the Oklahoma Criminal Appeals Court that once this 16 year-old child dared to wear a skirt in public, she forfeited any "reasonable expectation to privacy" concerning what was covered by that skirt. Huffington Post contributor Jessica Wakeman questions this logic, asking:
So, let me get this's not okay to violate someone in his or her own home, but it is okay to violate that person as soon as he or she sets foot on the sidewalk. Why would the court make such a distinction? To protect all those people who accidentally take photos or videotapes of other people's private parts?

Fortunately, there was one voice of reason sitting on the bench during this case.
The lone dissenting voter on the court, Appeals Judge Gary Lumpkin, wrote, "What this decision does is state to women who desire to wear dresses that there is no expectation of privacy as to what they have covered with their dress. In other words, it is open season for peeping Toms in public places who want to look under a woman's dress."

As shocking and horrible as this case is, it isn't abnormal. It has been "open season" on women in public spaces for quite some time. Allegations that the way a woman dresses could invite sexual assault are alive and well. Allison Stokke and allies are actually having to justify why her picture shouldn't be plastered all over the Internet without her consent. Justifications, we might add, that are falling on deaf ears. The paparazzi and the media consuming public don't think twice about the moral or ethical implications of taking, publishing,or viewing pictures of a private and embarrassing nature.

So Oklahoma didn't trail blaze viewing women's bodies as public domain, they just codified it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Missing Teen: You can help!

Black and Missing but not Forgotten has posted an alert for 17 year-old Tiffany Page from Greenbelt, Maryland. Local police consider her to be in danger and are asking the public for help finding her.
Capt. Tom Kemp tells WTOP that since Monday police have received communication from Page indicating that she may be at an elevated level of danger. Police say they may have more details on Wednesday afternoon.

Police say Page is black, about 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds. She has brown eyes, brown shoulder length hair and a fair complexion.

She was last seen wearing a black nylon Adidas jacket, blue jeans, blue Nike shoes and large silver hoop earrings, police say.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Greenbelt City Police Department at 301-474-7200 or 240-542-2110.

Even if you don't have new information, anything as small as reposting this alert on your blog could help bring this child home safely.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stalking is still not a viable hobby


Following in the footsteps of Wal-Mart and The New York Press, Maxim Magazine has run an ad for a "wire-tapping" device that makes light of, if not outright promotes, stalking.

Photo via Feministing

While publicizing a tool used for spying without noting any ways for victims to disarm or counter the device could only be described as irresponsible, the bottom portion of the page is specifically dedicated to men who want to spy on women, and the last paragraph of the section which encourages men to use GPS to track their "targets" is labeled "Step Up the Stalk."

Step Up the Stalk

Trying to catch her in the act? Get a RealTime GPS with Cellular Assist....At less than three ounces this credit card-sized nugget keeps tabs on your "target" via cell phone signal and 24 satellites.Accessories include a waterproof case, belt clip, and the knowledge that if she catches you before you catch her, you're sleeping alone...again.

Stalking isn't funny. Stalking is a terrifying and serious problem that affects millions of women and men every year. To let the editors at Maxim know that this type of humor is unacceptable, click here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Should public opinion influence museums?

The New York Times reported last Tuesday that museums are beginning to spend more time analyzing visitor feedback in order to ramp up attendance.
While museum market research has been around for two decades, gathering data about visitors has never been as important, or as sophisticated, as it is now. As museums expand, they need more paying customers to cover ever-increasing costs. And they’re competing for those customers with local shopping malls, movie theaters, even grocery stores.

“I call it the water-park phenomenon,” said Ford Bell, president and chief executive of the American Association of Museums in Washington. “A zillion other things are competing for our leisure time. People might visit a museum to see a Monet or a toaster or a textile display — what’s important is it’s getting them in the door.”

The Detroit Museum even employed door to door interviews along with traditional phone and mail out survey methods in order to find out what prospective visitors would like to see. The Metropolitan Museum of Art began their "Pop Rally" series in an effort to attract more visitors in the 20-30 year age range. Both of these museums say that the results of their research do not affect the content of their exhibitions, instead they say these results are simply used to determine their presentation. However some museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, do allow public opinion to determine their mix of exhibitions and it is this trend that has curators worried.
While serving up what audiences want may be a smart business move, there is a fear by curators that things can go too far, that catering to public opinion could dumb down a museum and supplant curatorial wisdom. Are museums for high culture or low? Places to see Ralph Lauren’s car collection and “Star Wars” costumes, props and drawings rather than Vermeer and Renaissance tapestries?

I don't really know how I feel about this one. I mean "Star Wars" may not be high art, but it has affected multiple generations of our culture as has Ralph Lauren. I personally find Vermeer and Renaissance tapestries to be a lot more interesting, but I don't have the only opinion that counts and my attendance alone certainly won't keep a museum open.

Innocence in Colorado

The Innocence Blog has reported that the state legislature is close to approving a bill that would allow people who's case evidence was destroyed against orders to be allowed a new trial. According to The Denver Post:
The legislation, filed Wednesday and signed by 82 House and Senate members out of 100 — including several former police officers — could mark the first time state leaders have attempted to reverse a criminal conviction, according to legislative librarians. And veteran lawmakers called the number of backers unusually large.

If the pledged support carries through to the actual vote, the bill would have enough votes to withstand a veto.

This new bill is being sponsored in response to cases like that Clarence Moses-El who has spent over 20 years in prison for a rape he says he did not commit. In 1995, when DNA testing became a possibility, Moses-El was allowed to have his DNA tested against evidence found at the scene. Unfortunately, before Moses-El's attorney could retrieve the evidence, Denver police threw away the victim's clothing and swabbings of her body. The tests that Moses-EL says would exonerate him have never been conducted. House Majority Leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder had this to say about the apparent support for the bill:

It's pretty unusual for this kind of support. There's probably been some resolutions supported by everybody — apple-pie stuff. But this is incredibly moving. Given what we know about mistakes being made, and innocent people getting out based on DNA, it's needed more than ever.

We'll keep you updated as this important legislation develops. In the meantime if you live in Colorado, contact your representative and show your support! Or, no matter where you live, you can contact The Innocence Project to find out what you can do to help.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

New Partner Organization!

We're very excited to announce that we have a new partner at Giving by Design.

Black and Missing but Not Forgotten is a blog dedicated to missing black women in America whose stories are often overlooked in mainstream media. This blog is run by a wonderful woman named Deidra who has covered literally thousands of cases since she started Black and Missing nine months ago. She is also spreading a campaign to promote awareness of missing African-Americans.

What Deidra needs to continue her important work is the resources to expand her operation, to reach a wider audience, and to create a sustainable infrastructure so that her work can continue even if life takes her in a different direction.

Here's what you can do to help.

-Add Black and Missing as a Friend on MySpace

-Help Deidra set up a News Feed by emailing

-Link to Black and Missing on you're blog

-Recommend Deidra's video on YouTube

-Or Donate to Black and Missing's Chip-In Campaign

We're honored to be partnering with a cause like Black and Missing but Not Forgotten and we look forward to helping further their mission and ours.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Giving by Design: Some clarifications

1) It was brought to our attention this morning that we did not include a notice about not allowing design's under copyright to be submitted or sold on our website unless you own the design or have documented permission to use the design. It is important to respect each other as artists which includes not using other people's intellectual property without permission. This will be corrected on our application this evening.

2) We have also been approached about not including art related posts on the blog more often. That is something we will definitely address as our official launch grows closer, since we will be in a better position to feature the emerging artists who will be appearing on our site. We'll try to do better on that score in the meantime.

3) For new readers, if you are unaware of our methods, the blog posts that are not related to art are related to the partner organizations that we support. We do not list any organizations that we would not feel comfortable being personally associated with and therefore we want to do all we can to promote their causes. In the end we're offering people a chance to make a tangible difference in the world simply by doing what they love to do; creating art. Blogging about issues relevant to our partner organizations is one of the ways we can further that goal.

2nd on Update: Innocence in Mississippi

Yesterday Innocence Project client Levon Brooks was officially exonerated!

At a hearing this morning in Macon, Mississippi, Innocence Project client Levon Brooks was fully cleared of charges relating to a 1990 murder for which he was wrongfully incarcerated for 15 years. Brooks was convicted of the murder based on the faulty forensic testimony of Dr. Steven Hayne and Michael West, and sentenced to life in prison. The same forensic experts also testified at the trial of Innocence Project client Kennedy Brewer, who was exonerated last month after serving 15 years (several of them on death row) for an eerily similar murder in the same town as the murder for which Brooks was convicted.

DNA testing and other evidence now shows that both murders were committed by the same man, Justin Albert Johnson, who has admitted that he killed both child victims alone. At a hearing last month, Brewer was fully exonerated and Brooks was released, but charges remained against Brooks until today.

Drs. Steven Hayne and Michael West are still under investigation for potentially knowingly providing false testimony. There has been a call to officially review all cases in which they were "expert" witnesses.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Take it Seriously


John Gambrell of the Associated Press reported Tuesday that Katharine Wood, 24, an English major at the University of Arkansas, had been found dead in her bathtub on Sunday, March 9th 2008. Hours later, Wood's ex-boyfriend Zachariah Scott Marcyniuk, 28, of Fayetteville, was arrested in western Oklahoma and charged with her murder.
A man [Marcyniuk] accused of murdering a University of Arkansas student told others "I think I hurt her real bad" but said he blacked out and couldn't remember what happened, a police affidavit says.

The affidavit also said Wood appeared to be the victim of a violent struggle, but police say the actual cause of death has not yet been determined. Friends and family told the AP that Wood recently complained that Marcyniuk was harassing her, stalking her, and "acting creepy." For example, Wood told friends he stalked her at a nightclub and tried to monitor her phone calls.

"After they broke up three or four weeks ago, she'd become increasingly afraid," said Michelle Mustion, a friend of Wood's. "She'd talked to her mom and I about getting a restraining order, but she had reason to believe everything was going to work out."

We now know that Marcyniuk had a history of violent behavior, having been sentenced to two years' probation in July 2005 for aggravated assault on a former girlfriend. Without this knowledge however,Wood and her family and friends probably just saw a guy who was having a hard time with a break up. It is cases like these that really illuminate the need to educate our society about domestic and dating violence. This is the third murder in the last three weeks that we have reported on that could have been prevented if the warning signs had been recognized and taken seriously.

Most recently, we reported on the murder of Kristina Lamberson who was killed in front of her 4-year-old child by her husband Robert Lamberson just one day after he had been arrested for violating a protective order she had against him. As we reported then,this tragic situation carried two important lessons. The first is that there needs to be a better system for keeping victims informed when someone who poses a known threat, like Robert Lamberson, is roaming free. The second comes from the statement of a family friend: "He liked to run his mouth a lot and I don't think anybody took him serious...."

On February 20th, we reported on what is probably the most glaring example of a severe (and ultimately fatal)threat of violence that was brushed off and normalized, not only by civilians but also by trained law enforcement officers. Natasha Hall was only 17 when she was shot by her 19-year old ex-boyfriend, Clay Kufner. In the months prior to the shooting, Ms. Hall had reported to police that Kufner hit her in the face, threatened to burn down her home, and posted nude photos of her on the internet. Despite this, the DeLand Police Department's Chief Deputy Randel Henderson had this to say in response to allegations of police inaction, "Basically we have a very young couple who are experiencing, at least up until last Friday evening, just very normal relationship problems."

In a society where one in every four women will experience domestic or dating violence within her lifetime and and an estimated 1.3 million women are physically assualted by a partner each year, we cannot afford to downplay this kind of behavior. There is no such thing as too cautious when it comes to saving a life. Speak up if you think something is wrong, and reach out if you need help.

Innocence in Kentucky

Today on the Innocence Blog Rebecca Brown reports from Kentucky on her work to reform the state's eyewitness identification procedures through bill HB 298. This bill would introduce eyewitness procedures that are proven through scientific studies to be effective. Here are some highlights from her report:
It is our hope that legislators will heed the lessons of wrongful conviction, and place robust science and experiential support above resistance to change. After all, traditional lineup methods are not the product of either scientific lessons or systemic validation. The unreliability of conventional eyewitness identification procedures undermines the effectiveness of public safety nationwide – and as importantly, the public faith therein. It bears repeating that eyewitness misidentification has contributed to more than three-quarters of the nation’s wrongful convictions proven through DNA testing.

The problem is well established, as are the solutions. I am testifying in Kentucky to help their legislature understand what the Innocence Project has learned – through deep study, and more importantly, through the reality of DNA exonerations – about the value of reforming their eyewitness identification procedures.

William Gregory, a Kentucky man whose innocence was proven through DNA testing, knows firsthand about the tragic implications of flawed eyewitness identification procedures; he spent seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit after two crime victims misidentified him.
Passage of HB 298 will not only protect the public and enhance Kentuckians’ confidence in their criminal justice system – it will also prove to Mr. Gregory that his suffering was not in vain. (Emphasis Added)

I encourage you to read the full report, and if you live in Kentucky, please contact your representative in support of this bill.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Victory! and a new Call to Action deadline March 13th

This is an e-mail from Irene Weiser concerning the new amendment to fund VAWA that is going to be voted on tomorrow. Act Now!

Hello Stop Family Violence Activists!

First of all - GREAT JOB to those of you who responded to yesterday's alert urging your Representatives to sign on to a "Dear Colleague" letter supporting full funding for VAWA. By mid-afternoon today 30 additional reps had signed on as a result of your messages!

NOW there's something URGENT and EXCITING happening in the SENATE.

Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), the author of the Violence Against Women Act, has put forward an amendment that will add $100 million for VAWA to the Senate's budget proposal.

The Budget Committee will be voting on the Biden Amendment on THURSDAY MARCH 13!!


CLICK HERE to learn more and to tell your Senators to Vote YES on the Biden Amendment.


Our strength is in our numbers!! Please pass this message on to everyone you can!

Together, we can...

Irene Weiser

It's all your fault


Under the innocuous headline Matchmaker's Dating Dos and Don'ts CNN and have managed to bring together a variety of the most harmful gender stereotypes and promote them as "cute." For this article, interviewed Patti Novak from the A&E show "Confessions of a Matchmaker."
Patti says her years of experience have taught her one thing -- millions of women have missed the mark when it comes to love. "Somewhere along the line, and I'm really not sure [when], we lost our common sense," she says.

Unfortunately, Ms. Novak's definition of "lost our common sense" is that women are gradually abandoning the trend of manipulating men into thinking that women are weak, simple-minded, dependent, or just overall less than human. The most telling example of Ms. Novak's view is the "pickle-jar" scenario she uses to illustrate how women could better help men "feel like" men.
Allison's take-charge attitude is what Patti calls the pickle jar effect. "We are so successful today, women. We're fabulous. We work hard. We make good money. We parent. Sometimes what happens when we spend a lot of time alone, we forget to let them open the damn pickle jar," Patti says.
Patti says that if he's not in the room, go ahead and open your own pickle jar. But if he's standing there, Patti says it's just as easy to ask him to open it. "And know that you are the smarter, clever one for doing it," she says. "It's about attitude."

This type of advice, especially when it is distributed through mainstream media, does not reflect positively on men or women. It puts forth the thesis that a woman must be manipulative to be in a relationship and that manipulative behavior is a natural part of being a woman. It also portrays men as insecure and kind of stupid. Blogger Arkades at Shakesville explains this point quite clearly.
I don't think validation based on manipulation is helpful. For one thing, it's a trivial and exceptionally shallow form of validation. It's also easy to see through, at which point it becomes patronizing. Why, it's hard to see how men could possibly survive out in the world at all, so easily and capriciously are our poor egos pumped up and beaten down at every turn!

My advice, to women *and* men: no one rational cares about stuff like who opens the jars. No man should feel slighted if a woman opens her own jar of pickles. Any man who *would* feel slighted by this is clearly not ready for a relationship among equals. Furthermore, a woman *pretending* that she can't do something may indeed be coy, but it isn't cute, it isn't sexy, and it isn't relationship-affirming.

A woman capable of doing something for herself ought *never* feel self-conscious about her abilities, and a man shouldn't take a woman's capability as a sign that his own abilities aren't appreciated.

Carol Lloyd of also takes exception to Ms.Novak's version of dating advice stating "What's obvious is that these formulas for harmony between the sexes request that women, no matter their empowerment in the workplace or their personality, should dumb themselves down to placate their lovers. " We would argue that Ms.Novak's line of advice also portrays being in a relationship as more important than being secure in who you are and having people appreciate you for that.

To recap, according to Ms. Novak, the following are impressions women want to avoid giving out if they want to find love.

"[It's like,] 'I love my life. It's great. It's perfect.'"

"I'm content. I'm having fun,'"

We are so successful today, women. We're fabulous. We work hard. We make good money.

With some parts of the mainstream media encouraging women to be manipulative and ashamed of themselves and other parts proclaiming that women are naturally stupid and deceitful, it's not hard to see why violence against women is so prevalent and misunderstood in our society.

Update on Innocence in Mississippi

According to the Innocence Blog, District Attorney Forrest Allgood, of Noxubee County, Mississippi, will drop the capital murder indictment against Innocence Project client Levon Brooks at a hearing Thursday morning in Macon, Mississippi. This long awaited exoneration comes after Brooks spent 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

The Clarion Ledger reports,
A hearing is set for 11:30 a.m. Thursday in Noxubee County Circuit Court for Brooks, 48, now free on bond. He was convicted and sentenced to life in the 1990 killing of 3-year-old Courtney Smith. The Mississippi Supreme Court threw out that conviction.

For more information on the background of this case click here or here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Call to Action: Deadline March 14th

President Bush's 2009 budget proposal will make devastating cuts (almost one-third of the funding or $120 million) to the Violence Against Women Act program.

Why should you care and what can you do?

"The Administration's budget for Violence Against Women Act programs is an outrage," said Sen. Joe Biden, author of the Violence Against Women Act. "Domestic violence impacts one in every four women, yet the Administration proposes cutting spending by almost a third. If allowed to go forward, this Administration's disastrous budgeting priorities could roll back more than a decade of success in investigating, prosecuting and preventing domestic and sexual violence."

Stop Family is mounting a campaign to prevent these budget cuts from becoming a reality. Recently, the House of Representatives has provided an opportunity for opposition to these cuts to be heard. Below is an excerpt from open letter written by's Executive Director, Irene Weiser.

If allowed to go forward, this Administration's disastrous budget priorities could roll back more than a decade of success in investigating, prosecuting and preventing domestic and sexual violence.

But something hopeful is happening in the House of Representatives!!

Leaders from the Victim’s Rights Caucus and the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues are circulating a 'Dear Colleague" letter (congress' version of a petition) urging other members in the House to support full funding for the Violence Against Women Act.

The deadline to sign the Dear Colleagues letter is Friday March 14. For more information and to send a pre-written e-mail to your representative, click here .

Since this is such short notice I don't have time to outline the many important things that VAWA does and the horrible consequences the proposed changes will bring. Fortunately, has outlined all of those things really well at the above link.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Mother Murdered while Children were Present

Cross-posted from The Big Picture because I wrote it so I can do that.

A Boston tragedy shows us once again that the effects of domestic violence are not confined to adults. Police found Melissa Santiago, 29, laying face down on her kitchen floor on Sunday. She had been stabbed multiple times and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Hours later, Santiago's boyfriend, Jose Torres, 26, was arrested for her murder. Police said the murder seems to be "the result of domestic violence."

According to Santiago's neighbors, the children were all at home during the slaying. The police were called after the children ran outside saying that their mother had been killed. Neighbors report that Santiago's eldest child is five years old.

On a positive note, neighbors on scene were very vocal about the need for law enforcement to take domestic violence seriously. One woman stated:

They've got to crack down more on these people who are killing their spouses and stuff, because they're not doing enough for domestic violence, I think. Otherwise, you wouldn't be finding dead bodies like this.

This call for reform is supported by statistics from the Boston-based domestic violence organization Jane Doe Inc., who said the number of domestic violence related homicides have risen nearly 300 percent since 2005.

For more information on the effects of domestic violence on children click here .

New Book Examines Innocence Commissions: Sales Support Innocence Project.

A new book titled “The Innocence Commission: Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Restoring the Criminal Justice System,” by Jon Gould examines the Innocence Commission for Virginia and the model of creating panels of experts to review the injustice of wrongful convictions and make recommendations for states to reform their criminal justice systems. According to the Innocence Blog:

Criminal justice reform commissions – also called innocence commissions – are a centerpiece of the Innocence Project’s reform proposals nationwide, and have been extremely effective in several states in bringing about reforms to protect the innocent and assist law enforcement agencies and prosecutors.

The Innocence Project explains more about innocence commissions here. And you can buy Professor Gould's book on Amazon by clicking here. A portion of the proceeds will be given to the Innocence Project.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Oh, The New York Post

From the publication that brought you Ike "Beats" Tina to Death, comes this charming and poignant "article", Miss-Leading: The truth about gal's serial fibbing.

Now strictly speaking this is not an article, it's a sub par book review. And if the New York Post had characterized it as such, I might not find it worth writing about. However, they are presenting the findings in this book as factual news rather than the results of an extremely small and flawed study.
Deceit, thy name is woman.
Most females lie "more cleverly and successfully than men" about everything from infidelity and facelifts to barhopping and shopping binges, according to a new book.

Susan Shapiro Barash, author of "Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets: The Truth About Why Women Lie," claims to have done a study encompassing 500 women nationwide. The NY Post does disclose that Barash obtained the subjects of her study through an ad on Craigslist where she solicited women who wanted to confess fibs they had told in the past. I'll say it again, she put out an ad asking for liars, and is now claiming the fact that liars have lied is scientific proof that women lie more than men. In addition to the flawed method of gathering subjects, The NY Post did not seem to think it was important that there was not a male group involved in the study for comparison purposes.

The mainstream media portrayal of women as inherently stupid, or inherently deceitful is not only offensive, it's dangerous. These stereotypes are often used by batterers in domestic violence situations to justify the on-going abuse, or used as a vehicle to deny to the public that abuse ever took place. It's this type of thinking that leads to women’s disclosures of violence not being taken seriously by clergy, family, law enforcement, etc. If you're doubtful that these portrayals are in line with mainstream attitudes about women, just ask yourself how a piece this offensive and this deeply flawed got through an editorial board and into a newspaper, and remained there with little public protest?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Our MySpace Page

Just in case you hadn't seen it, we have a MySpace page! So come see us, and don't forget to add us as your friend.

Innocence in Mississippi

Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks are living proof of the importance of competence in our criminal justice system. CNN sets the scene:
At a small-town courthouse in one of rural Mississippi's poorest counties, Dr. Michael West swore under oath that a dead girl had bite marks all over her body and that they were made by the two front teeth of the man charged with murdering her.

Dr. West had appeared in numerous Mississippi trials as a paid forensic odontology expert for the prosecution.On that day in 1995, jurors found his testimony credible enough to convict Kennedy Brewer of raping and murdering a 3-year-old girl with little to no other evidence. Mr. Brewer was sentenced to death.

Three years prior, Dr.West testified in an eerily similar rape-and-murder case involving another 3-year-old girl from the same town. Dr. West testified that bite marks that were found on the victim's wrist were made by Levon Brooks. Mr. Brooks was also found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

The crimes they were charged with were not the only thing Brooks and Brewer had in common.Both defendants were accused of raping and murdering their girlfriend's child. Both defendants were from Brooksville. Both defendants were poor. Both defendants were African-American. And both defendants were innocent.

Earlier this month[February], Justin Albert Johnson, a 51-year-old Brooksville man who had been a suspect early on, was arrested and charged in one of the murders. Investigators said he confessed to both killings after DNA analysis proved that his semen was in the victim in the Brewer case.

An investigation by an Innocence Project panel of forensic odontologists from England, Canada, and the United States confirmed that the bite marks on the victims were likely the result of small insects, decomposition, and rough handling when the bodies were recovered. The panel itself did not explicitly make a charge of intentional wrong-doing on the part of Dr.West, but multiple panel participants stated that they did not understand how these marks could have reasonably been confused with human bite marks. These findings have opened the possibility of a criminal investigation against Dr. West, who prosecutors say has not been used as an expert witness since the mid-1990s. The public and various advocacy groups are also calling for review of all cases in Dr. West worked on.

Brewer and Brooks spent more than a decade of their life in jail for crimes they did not commit, while a child rapist and murderer remained free. Given the complete incompetence and possible corruption of this "expert", there could be dozens more innocent men behind bars and dozens more criminals roaming the streets under the radar. Their story reminds us that we must get involved with our local governments and let them know that incompetence and lack of oversight will not go unnoticed.

For more information, check out the Innocence Blog

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Update on Lamberson Murder

6News has posted a follow up story under the headline Mom Defends Son Police Say Killed Wife, Himself. There are several problems with this new story, starting with the headline. The fact that this man murdered his wife is not contested and this headline waters down the blame. The second problem with the way this story is framed is the insinuation that because Kristina had been in contact with Robert, she did not consider him a threat and was partially to blame for what happened. Many people in domestic violence situations are not sure of the proper conduct, particularly when there are children involved. It is important to remember that these relationships did not begin this way. These women simultaneously care about their abusers and are afraid of them. Either as a result of concern for their abuser's future or out of fear that engaging the legal system will enrage their abuser further, many women feel that it is better to deal with the situation on their own, rather than go through the legal system. This does not mean they deserve to be shot.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Murder-Suicide Leaves 4-year old trapped

Cross posted from The Big Picture because I wrote it and I can do that

6News in Indiana reported yesterday that a four year-old girl in Elwood Indiana was trapped in her home after her stepfather killed her mother and then himself. According to the article Robert Lamberson shot Kristina Lamberson on Sunday. The shooting occurred just one day after Robert was arrested for violating the protective order Kristina had against him.

The girl, unable to leave the home because she couldn't undo the front door's lock, called her aunt for help. The aunt called 911, and officers broke into the home and found the dead couple, police said.

6News reported that Elwood Police Chief Jack Miller said it was hard knowing that the Lamberson's daughter was in the home at the time. Relatives tell 6News that the girl has talked repeatedly about her mother's death, and they are angry that Kristina was not told that Robert had been released from jail.

This tragic situation carries two important lessons. The first is that there needs to be a better system for keeping victims informed when someone who poses a known threat, like Robert Lamberson, is roaming free. The second comes from the statement of a family friend: "He liked to run his mouth a lot and I don't think anybody took him serious...." Domestic violence is a serious and often hidden problem. When someone "runs their mouth" about harming another human being, it should always be taken seriously.

The Literacy Project

If promoting literacy is your passion, or you or someone you know needs help learning to read, a great place to start is The Literacy Project. This is a non-profit organization that provides resources for teachers, literacy organizations and anyone interested in reading and education. The Literacy Project was created in collaboration with LitCam, Google, and UNESCO's Institute for Lifelong Learning.

This valuable resource includes, a Literacy Map which displays the locations of organizations promoting literacy, links to literacy-based blogs, videos on literacy, a book club database, and a search engine specifically dedicated to queries on literacy.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Faces of Wrongful Conviction Project

While researching topics related to our partner organizations, I came across The Faces of Wrongful Conviction Project .

This California non-profit organization tells the stories of over 200 men and women who have been proven to have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in the state of California. Their mission statement is as follows:
More than 200 men and women have been wrongfully convicted in California since 1990. Some of these men and women were sentenced to death; all lost years of their lives, imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. The aim of this project is to bring you their stories and to advocate for reforms that will eliminate wrongful convictions.

Their website is a great way to reaffirm the work being done by the Innocence Project. Telling these people's stories reminds us that those who have been wrongfully convicted are sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and co-workers, and even if there was just one wrongfully convicted individual in jail, it would be one too many.