The “Unholy Alliance” that May Defeat Comprehensive UN Call to End Gender-Based Violence

Last week, on International Women’s Day (March 8), I participated in the 24-hour Global Tweet-a-Thon to end gender-based violence.  This event was held in conjunction with the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) that is being held in New York City.  The theme of this year’s session is the “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”

I participated as a host for one hour of this event to facilitate the global conversation between people around the world and those attending the unofficial Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) programs at the UN as well as to send a message to the official UN delegation. Our message was that advocates around the world are looking for a strong draft statement calling for the full elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls as directed by the theme of this two-week conference.

Here are a few of the many tweets I sent out that either addresses the situation of violence in countries around the world OR that calls on governments, including the UN, to create best practices to end gender-based violence:

@JoeBiden “40% of all mass shootings started with the murderer targeting their girlfriend, or their wife, or their ex-wife.” #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

The first sexual experience for 24% of women in rural Peru was forced. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

In Latin America & the Caribbean, abused women reported higher incidents of miscarriage and induced abortion. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013 (Source)

In South Africa, women who were abused by their partners are 48% more likely to be infected with HIV than those who were not. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must enact legislation that addresses violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW governments must fully fund health services for survivors of violence, including #HIV screening & emergency contraception. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must ensure girls and women have access to abortion in cases of rape and incest. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Providing young people with human rights-based, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information helps #EndVAW. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Respecting, protecting, and fulfilling girls’ and women’s sexual rights can minimize the violence they face. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

Promoting girls’ and women’s sexual rights is a key tool to #EndVAW, address women’s inequality, and achieve sustainable development. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Domestic laws to #EndVAW should align with international best practice and reinforce the protections found in #humanrights treaties. #CSW57 #IWD2013

And

There is no country where women and men are equal in all spheres of life. You have the power to can change that! #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

That last tweet is a call for individuals, organizations, countries, and the United Nations to pull together to create and execute a comprehensive plan to end gender-based violence and fully comply with all of the universally agreed-upon agreements (treaties, resolutions, and statements), including the Women’s Rights Treaty (commonly known as CEDAW or the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1993)) as well as the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000)

I had hoped the draft document that is supposed to be finalized and signed on March 15 – the final day of the two-week deliberation – would help strengthen these treaties.  Instead on Tuesday, March 12, 2013, I received an email from two NGOs – the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutger’s University and International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)—indicating that

“the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is wavering in its commitment to advance women’s human rights as demonstrated in the constant negotiation of the language in the outcome document.”

The next morning, I saw a New York Times editorial called “Unholy Alliance.”  This article clearly lays out what was going on in the official deliberations.  Apparently, the Vatican (which, btw, is a “Permanent Observer,” not a “Member State”), Iran, Russia, and a few other Member States have spent the their entire time at CSW57 trying to eliminate language in the draft communiqué to “duck” their obligations – and thus the obligations agreed to by most of the world – to eliminate all gender-based violence.

Their excuses?  Religion. Custom. Tradition.

What are they objecting to specifically?  Any reference to abortions or contraception.  Any mention of reproductive or sexual health. Any reference to forced sex as rape by either a spouse or other intimate partner.  And even any reference to women’s rights in general from the aforementioned international agreements; in this case, they claim that either religious or cultural traditions must take precedence over ending any form of gender-based violence.

These “reservations,” by the way, are the same reservations raised by essentially the same countries at the 56th session of the CSW conference in 2012.  As a result, that session ended without any agreement and women, once again, were left without a comprehensive UN plan to help improve their lives.

I am appalled. Gender-based violence is a crime against humanity.  Whether that crime is perpetrated by a government (for example, when military units carry out gang rapes and other gender-based war crimes for ethnic intimidation, ethnic cleansing and terrorizing a community).  Or when that crime of violence is perpetrated by individuals.

After learning all of this, I contacted the National Organization for Women (NOW) chapters in Pennsylvania.  Within 24 hours, Pennsylvania NOW along with South Hills NOW (Pittsburgh area), East End NOW (part of Allegheny County just east of Pittsburgh), Northeast Williamsport NOW, Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (my chapter here in Centre County), and Montgomery County NOW all co-signed the letter created by CWGL and IWRAW Asia Pacific.

This letter was signed by 281 organizations from 57 countries and 129 people from around the world and delivered to the conference on March 14.  FYI, since some of the organizations do not include the country of origin in their names, there may be — and probably are — more than 57 countries represented on this letter.

Here’s the letter that we signed.

IWD Statement on Concerns of Women’s Organizations Over Negotiations on CSW 57 Outcome Document 3-14-13

I along with all of these organizations and individuals want to see a comprehensive UN program to end violence against women and girls.  We want to strong enforcement of all international agreements.

Patriarchy has no right to quash human rights.  Let’s hope that the official delegates hear our voice and stop this “unholy alliance.” If allowed, the result will be more, not less gender-based violence.

If not, then I believe that like last year there should be no UN document signed by the United States or any other Member State participating in the 57th CSW conference.  Going forward with a strong plan to end all forms of violence is the best plan.  Going backwards is appalling and should not be condoned.  Better nothing than something that moves us backwards.

Let’s just hope they hear our voice and “do the right thing.”

How Can Research be a Catalyst for Change to End Gender-Based Violence (in English y españoles)

From March 4-15, advocates are gathering at the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York City to urge governments to fulfill commitments to eliminate violence against women and girls.

Over the next week and a half, advocates are supporting this conference via the use of social media—including blogs, tweets, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest to name a few—to spread the word about both the CSW meeting and to call for an end to gender-based violence.

Since today is International Women’s Day, thousands, if not millions of people are participating in this call to eliminate global gender-based violence by participating in a global Tweet-a-Thon.

Advocates who are Tweeting and who are participating at the 57th CSW session are documenting the incidence and impact of all forms of violence against women and children to [bear] witness to the human rights abuses that far too many women experience daily worldwide,…”  This documentation “also helps to understand the prevalence, nature, and root causes of such abuses so that [countries, advocates, and service providers] may be more effective in stemming [all forms of violence] through laws, policies, and prevention and response programs.

Blogs are also focusing on this issue. One of them, originally published by IPPF/Western Hemisphere Region, states that documentation and research on violence is all its forms  can then be a catalyst for change.

As a policy analyst and advocate for civil and women’s rights with a research background in work and family issues I fully agree.  So I thought you, my reader, would like to see what Jimena Valades, Program Officer – Safe Abortion at IPPF/WHR has to say.

In an effort to make this as accessible as possible, I am presenting this blog in both English and Spanish.  First, here’s the reblog of the English version:

How Can Research be a Catalyst for Change?

Jimena Valades, Program Officer – Safe Abortion

If an act of violence is perpetrated, but is never reported or documented, did it happen at all?

Of course the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. There are many reasons why survivors may not report incidents of violence, including fear of retaliation, stigma, or disillusion with law enforcement. Surveys from Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Peru show that up to 20% of women experience sexual assault, yet few to none report it to police. Many of the survivors who do report incidents of violence are met with ineffective judicial systems that parlay impunity or data monitoring systems that act like black holes, swallowing up the evidence of the tragedy they have endured. Either way, we know that whatever statistics we do have about gender-based violence reflect just a fraction of its harsh reality.

Yet, the larger point remains: there is critical importance in documenting acts of violence against women and girls – systematically, carefully, and over time. Collecting data on the issue not only bears witness to the human rights abuses that far too many women experience daily worldwide, but also helps to understand the prevalence, nature, and root causes of such abuses so that we may be more effective in stemming it through laws, policies, and prevention and response programs.

While numerous country-level studies on gender-based violence in Latin America and the Caribbean exist, there is a need for more current and comprehensive national prevalence data, as well as qualitative research into causes, and risk and protection factors. In short, we need to do a better job uncovering the full picture of gender-based violence in order to most effectively address it. Further, a persistent lack of comparability between national studies in the region has hampered the ability to draw broader, meaningful conclusions.

How do we zoom out to the bigger picture to understand violence regionally? How can we share successful prevention and response strategies across countries and globally?

A new study released in January by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) attempts to answer these questions by re-analyzing studies from 12 countries in the region. For the first time, data reveals a broader and more in-depth picture of both the prevalence and nature of violence region-wide.

While globally it is estimated that one in three women will experience physical, sexual, or psychological violence in her lifetime, this rate is both higher and lower across different areas of Latin America and the Caribbean. For instance, more than half of women who have been married in Bolivia reported having experienced some type of violence by their intimate partner during their lifetime. This rate of intimate partner violence reported was lower, just 17%, in the Dominican Republic. Emotional abuse of women by intimate partners is also common in the region, and is closely linked to the incidence physically abuse. Nearly half of women in Nicaragua reported experiencing emotional abuse by a partner in their lifetime.

While more information is needed, we are just now beginning to uncover a picture of the complex root causes and risk factors for violence against women in the region. After controlling for a number of factors, PAHO researchers found that the risk factors most closely associated with violence by a partner include being divorced or separated, having a high number of children, and if a woman’s father was abusive to her mother. This seems like an odd grouping, but it’s a key finding because it can help direct our attention father up the causal chain of violence, to focus our programming efforts on critical risk factors.

Documenting the stories of women who experience various forms of violence, qualitatively, is also important. Last year, the Nobel Women’s Initiative led a fact-finding mission to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala to document violence against women – in particular sexual violence perpetrated by the state and the mining industry against women’s human rights defenders. Women from these countries stepped forward courageously to provide testimony, oftentimes at their own peril, of their experiences of violence – with their sisters bearing witness – enabling new nuanced documentation of this epidemic.

There have also been other efforts across Latin America to support increased reporting of violence among survivors, such as through the increased establishment of all-women police forces and courts specialized to address violence against women issues.

There are many reasons to be hopeful that increased data can help catalyze meaningful change, though there are reality checks left and right. While 97% of countries in the region have laws on domestic violence, fewer than half include explicit references to marital rape. In November, after decades of advocacy, the Law Against Violence Against Women was passed in Nicaragua. Yet, the country recorded 85 femicides in 2012, and new instances of sexual violence across the region make the news every day.

Despite the persistence of these abuses, the importance of documenting violence against women and collecting sound data remains. As data collection improves and more studies are done about this epidemic at the country and regional level, we may actually see something that seems like an uptick in violence against women. This may or may not actually be the case. Since gender-based violence is so hidden and often under-reported, the more we dig, the more we will find. An accurate picture is essential and pivotal to the achievement of our end goal: eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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A partir de marzo 4-15, defensores se reúnen en la 57 sesión de la Comisión de la Condición Jurídica y Social de la Mujer (CSW) en Nueva York para instar a los gobiernos a cumplir los compromisos de eliminar la violencia contra las mujeres y las niñas.

Durante la siguiente semana y media, los defensores están apoyando esta conferencia a través del uso de medios sociales, incluyendo blogs, tweets, Facebook, LinkedIn y Pinterest para nombrar unos pocos, para difundir la palabra acerca tanto a la reunión de la CSW y para pedir el poner fin a la violencia de género.

Como hoy es el Día Internacional de la Mujer, miles, si no millones de personas están participando en esta convocatoria mundial para eliminar la violencia de género mediante la participación en un mundial Tweet-a-Thon.

Los defensores que son Tweeting y que están participando en la 57 ª sesión de la CSW se documenta la incidencia y el impacto de todas las formas de violencia contra las mujeres y los niños “testigos ante los abusos de derechos humanos que demasiadas mujeres experimentan en el mundo todos los días, sino también para entender la prevalencia, naturaleza y raíces de estos abusos para poder lograr una mayor efectividad en detenerlos – a través de leyes y políticas y a través de la prevención y programas de respuesta.”.

Los blogs también se centra en el tema. Uno de ellos, publicado por la IPPF / Región del Hemisferio Occidental, afirma que la documentación y la investigación sobre la violencia en todas sus formas es entonces puede ser un catalizador para el cambio.

Como analista político y defensor de los derechos civiles y los derechos de las mujeres con antecedentes de investigación en el trabajo y la familia estoy totalmente de acuerdo. Así que usted cree, querido lector, le gusta ver lo que Jimena Valadés, Oficial de Programas – Aborto Seguro en la IPPF / RHO tiene que decir.

En un esfuerzo para hacer esto lo más accesible posible, les presento este blog en Inglés y Español. La siguiente es la versión en español de este blog.

¿Cómo puede la investigación ser un catalizador para el cambio?

Jimena Valades, Oficial de Programas – Aborto Seguro

Si un acto de violencia es perpetrado pero nunca reportado ni documentado, ¿pasó en realidad?

Desde luego que la respuesta es sí. Hay muchas razones por las cuales los sobrevivientes pueden no reportar incidentes de violencia, incluyendo el miedo a las represalias, estigma, o desilusión con los agentes del orden. Encuestas de Costa Rica, Paraguay y Perú muestran que hasta el 20% de mujeres han sufrido un ataque de índole sexual, pero pocas a ninguna lo reporta a la policía. Y muchos sobrevivientes que reportan incidentes de violencia, se enfrentan con sistemas judiciales ineficaces que apuestan a la impunidad o sistemas de monitoreo de datos que actúan como agujeros negros, tragándose la evidencia de la tragedia sucedida. De todas maneras, sabemos que las estadísticas con las que contamos en términos de violencia basada en género representa solo una fracción de la dura realidad.

Aun así el punto más importante sigue vigente: hay una importancia crítica en documentar los actos de violencia contra las mujeres –sistemáticamente, con cuidado, y con continuidad en el tiempo. Esto es necesario no solo para actuar como testigos ante los abusos de derechos humanos que demasiadas mujeres experimentan en el mundo todos los días, sino también para entender la prevalencia, naturaleza y raíces de estos abusos para poder lograr una mayor efectividad en detenerlos – a través de leyes y políticas y a través de la prevención y programas de respuesta.

A pesar de que existen numerosos estudios sobre VBG a nivel país en Latinoamérica y el Caribe, hay una necesidad de obtener datos más actuales y de prevalencia nacional, así como investigaciones cualitativas en las causas, los riesgos y los factores de protección. En suma, necesitamos hacer un mejor trabajo para tener un panorama más claro y amplio de la VBG para poder responder mejor ante ella. A su vez, la falta persistente de comparabilidad entre estudios nacionales en la región ha disminuido la capacidad de sacar conclusiones más amplias y significativas. ¿Cómo alejamos el zoom para poder ver todo el panorama completo y entender la violencia a nivel regional –sus causas, lo que ha sido efectivo en prevenirla, sus costos, etc.? ¿Cómo compartimos estrategias de prevención y respuesta entre países?

Un nuevo estudio publicado este mes por la Organización Panamericana de Salud (PAHO) ha intentado re analizar investigaciones de 12 países de la región, y, por primera vez, revela un panorama más amplio y profundo sobre la prevalencia y naturaleza de la violencia en esa parte del mundo.

Globalmente se estima que una de tres mujeres experimentará violencia física, sexual o psicológica en su vida, pero este número es –al mismo tiempo- alto y bajo en las diferentes áreas de Latinoamérica y el Caribe. Por ejemplo, más de la mitad de mujeres que nunca contrajeron matrimonio en Bolivia reportaron haber experimentado algún tipo de violencia de parte de sus parejas en el curso de sus vidas. Este mismo índice es más bajo, un 17%, en la República Dominicana. El abuso emocional por parte de la pareja es endémico en la región y está estrechamente vinculado con el abuso físico. Casi la mitad de las mujeres en Nicaragua han reportado abuso emocional de parte de sus parejas durante sus vidas.

Aunque es necesaria más información al respecto, recién ahora estamos desentrañando un marco de las raíces y los factores de riesgo de violencia contra las mujeres en la región. Después de controlar un número de factores en la región, investigadores de PAHO encontraron que los factores que se asocian a la violencia de parte de una pareja incluye estar divorciado o separado, tener muchos hijos, o si el padre de la mujer era abusivo con su madre. Esto puede parecer como una mezcla rara de factores, pero es un hallazgo clave porque nos ayuda a dirigir nuestra atención más arriba en la cadena de causales de violencia, y enfocar nuestros esfuerzos programáticos en los factores de riesgo críticos.

Es también importante el documentar las historias de las mujeres que experimentan las varias formas de violencia de manera cualitativa. El año pasado, la Iniciativa Nobel de Mujeres lideró una investigación en México, Honduras y Guatemala para documentar la violencia contra las mujeres y en particular la violencia sexual perpetrada por el Estado y la industria minera en contra de las defensoras de los derechos de las mujeres. Mujeres provenientes de estos países se acercaron con mucho coraje a dar su testimonio – la mayoría de las veces bajo riesgo de vida- de sus experiencias de violencia, con sus hermanas como testigos, desarrollando nueva documentación sobre esta epidemia.

Ha habido otros esfuerzos en América Latina para apoyar el incremento de reporte de violencia entre sobrevivientes, a través de un aumento de fuerzas de policía exclusivamente compuestas por mujeres y cortes especializadas para atender los temas de violencia contra las mujeres.

Hay varias razones para mantener la esperanza que al incrementar los datos estadísticos podamos ayudar a catalizar un cambio significativo, aunque seguimos teniendo chequeos de realidad en todos lados. Mientras que 97% de los países de la región tienen leyes contra la violencia doméstica, menos de la mitad hace referencia explícita a la violación dentro del matrimonio. En noviembre, luego de décadas de trabajo de incidencia, la Ley de Violencia contra las Mujeres fue promulgada en Nicaragua. Sin embargo, el país mantiene un record de 85 femicidios en 2012, y nuevas instancias de violencia sexual salen en las noticias de la región todos los días.

A pesar de la persistencia de estos abusos, sigue siendo de vital importancia el documentar la violencia contra las mujeres y compilar datos de solidez estadística. A medida que la recolección de datos mejora y se incrementa el número de investigaciones que documentan esta epidemia a nivel nacional y regional, podríamos suponer el estar frente a un aumento de la violencia contra las mujeres. Esto puede, o no, ser así. Como la VBG es usualmente escondida y con bajo nivel de reporte, cuanto más escarbemos más vamos a encontrar. Pero el tener un panorama completo es esencial y crucial para llegar a nuestro objetivo final: prevenir y eliminar todas las formas de violencia contra las mujeres y niñas en Latinoamérica y el Caribe.

A Further Comment on Violence Against Women and Children on V-Day

I received a comment on LinkedIn this morning in response to my posting titled VAWA Passes Senate: One Step Toward Ending the Climate of Indifference Towards Violence Against Women.  My status statement said, “Feb 14 is V-Day. Rise to end indifference towards violence against women.”  A man in one of the groups I am a member of responded with a question:

So, please explain how we are being “indifferent” towards violence against women. There are laws against violent attacks on any human being – women included. Are these laws being ignored in cases where a woman is the victim?

I think not.

What we see here is another group who wishes to reap the benefits of victim status whether the facts bear them out or not. Beware of those who believe that they deserve special treatment – especially when that special treatment comes at the expense of others.

His question deserves a response.  Which I gave him within LinkedIn.  Since there are many others how might have a similar question but aren’t on LinkedIn, I’m commenting here as well.

The Violence Against Women Re-Authorization Act (VAWA S.47) does not call for special treatment of anyone. VAWA is calling on fair treatment of ALL victims of violence.

A climate of indifference is a climate where attacks against others – sexual assault, acquaintance or domestic violence, sexual harassment, and stalking– are ignored, covered up, or made light of. And in some instances, the climate of indifference is perpetuated when the alleged perpetrator is treated more lightly than someone else who may have committed the assault simply because of his status or affiliation.

That’s what has partially been happening with the Athletics program at Penn State University since 1994 and which helped lead to the situation of the child sexual assaults done by Jerry Sandusky. That’s part of what is happening in Steubenville, OH in the rape case where perpetrators made a video of themselves and others carrying a teenage girl from one house to another and raping her. That’s what led to the DC police refusing to take a police report last week from a friend of mine after a man exposed himself to her and masturbated because she didn’t stay with the man until the police came!

In addition, VAWA’s re-authorization has been delayed for over two years because some legislators – mostly Republican, including the majority of the US House of Representatives – are indifferent to the violence perpetrated on Native Americans, immigrants, and gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered persons. This “indifference” towards violence against specific people is based solely on the victim’s status, is disparate treatment, and IMO is discriminatory.

Yes there are laws in place. Yet, until all victims are treated fairly and in a timely fashion, I will continue to call out people and communities for creating a climate of indifference that allows this to continue. All people need to live in safe communities and homes.

Ending this climate of indifference wherever it occurs is a start towards caring for our loved ones.  PASS VAWA NOW!

“Gabby Giffords Deserves a Vote:” So Says President Obama

I’m a graduate of Virginia Tech and know the buildings where the VT shootings occurred. In 1996, my husband unknowingly walked right by shooter Jillian Rogers on the HUB lawn at Penn State University; fortunately he wasn’t one of her victims. When I was a social worker, I was threatened by a man with a gun; again, fortunately the gun wasn’t loaded when he grabbed the gun and his father was able to wrestle the gun away from him. As a child, my father dismantled his pistol when my mother became depressed; he was sensible and did the right thing. Gun safety and responsible solutions are necessary. As Mr. Obama said, we need to support commonsense solutions to reduce gun violence. I agree with Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

President Obama calling for a vote on sensible solutions to gun violence.

“It was powerful to be in the chamber tonight as we stood in support of commonsense solutions to reduce gun violence. We were joined by victims from Aurora, Newtown, Tucson, Chicago, Wisconsin and other American communities. The President cut through the acrimony and partisanship and showed that measures to reduce gun violence like universal background checks aren’t Democratic or Republican – they’re important for and supported by almost all Americans.

Hard to say it better than the President did tonight during his State of the Union Address: “Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote.” We leave tonight, Gabby’s 6th State of the Union, more optimistic and determined than ever.

Climate of Indifference IS Part of Why the Sandusky Sexual Assaults Occurred

This morning, Joe Paterno’s family released their report contradicting much of Judge Louis Freeh’s report on why the child sexual assaults at Penn State University occurred.  In this report, they state that there were essentially no issues within the football program (and, by implication, the Athletics program in general) that would have created what I call the “Climate of Indifference” at The Penn State University towards sexual assault, domestic and acquaintance violence, and stalking.

Whether or not Joe Paterno should be held accountable for his actions or in-actions in the Jerry Sandusky case, I do believe that those within the Athletics department and the Penn State administration contributed to a climate where athletes, staff, and faculty within the Athletics program either felt immune from possible repercussions of their actions OR felt fearful in reporting what they saw or heard.

Since 1994, I along with Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (the local NOW chapter in Centre County, PA), Pennsylvania NOW, and/or National NOW have been calling on the University to take all forms of assault against women—and subsequently children—seriously, to create a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of violence against others, to end the Climate of Indifference within Athletics, and treat all allegations of assault under the same rules and policies that the rest of the University community is held up to.

In November 2011, right after the Sandusky case came to light, The Nation’s Dave Zirin referenced a 2006 comment I had made in an article he titled “The World Joe Paterno Made.”  He first set up the background for my statement:

In 2003, less than one year after Paterno was told that Sandusky was raping children, he allowed a player accused of rape to suit up and play in a bowl game. Widespread criticism of this move was ignored. In 2006, Penn State’s Orange Bowl opponent Florida State, sent home linebacker A.J. Nicholson, after accusations of sexual assault. Paterno’s response, in light of recent events, is jaw-dropping. He said, “There’s so many people gravitating to these kids. He may not have even known what he was getting into, Nicholson. They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do? Geez. I hope—thank God they don’t knock on my door because I’d refer them to a couple of other rooms.”

Zirin then stated,

Joanne Tosti-Vasey, president of Pennsylvania’s National Organization for Women in Pennsylvania, was not amused. With chilling unintentional prescience, Tosti-Vasey responded, “Allegations of sexual assault should never be taken lightly. Making light of sexual assault sends the message that rape is something to be expected and accepted.”

Upon seeing a Tweet by Mr. Zirin calling my statement “prescient,” I contacted him and told him that NOW continued to have concerns over the Climate of Indifference within the Athletics program.  He printed my comments in their entirety in a subsequent blog.  This included the following:

I truly wish that I hadn’t been “prescient” as you stated in your article when you referred to my call in 2006 for Penn State to address campus violence. Due to these newest allegations of child sexual assault and the possible cover-up that may have occurred, I have once again referred to this Climate of Indifference and minimization of abuse towards others, particularly in the Athletics Department….

For almost 20 years, we have challenged Penn State’s dismissive attitude toward violence against women, particularly within the Athletics department. It is time to stop this insular focus.  It is time to make sure that NO form of campus violence – sexual assault, relationship violence, or stalking – is ever again tolerated.   Against any child.  Against any adult.  Against any member of the PSU community or a visitor to any of our campuses (yes, I am alum).

After NOW and many others called for an independent investigation into the Sandusky scandal, Judge Louis Freeh was appointed as the Special Investigative Counsel by the Penn State Board of Trustees.  On July 12, 2012, Judge Freeh released his scathing indictment against the upper administration, the Athletics department, and the Board of Trustees for covering up, failing to protect potential and actual victims of sexual violence, and failing to provide appropriate board oversight.

Regardless of whether or not Joe Paterno was culpable in this alleged cover-up (which I am not commenting on one way or the other), I continue to believe that the Climate of Indifference within the Athletic program contributed to this scandal and needs to be addressed.  It needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner so that no child or adult is ever stalked, physically assaulted, or sexually assaulted again.

Once this report came out, National NOW posted a statement by me as a member of the National NOW Board of Directors regarding the Freeh report.   In light of today’s report by the Paterno family relating to the scandal and this Climate of Indifference at Penn State, I’d like to reiterate the following:

[The] University must step up to the plate and fully implement these recommendations. But they need to go even further to focus on policies to prevent all forms of campus violence — sexual assault, domestic/relationship violence, and stalking — of both children AND adults….

One way Judge Freeh’s recommendations could have additional teeth is if the University also complies with the new Title IX regulations that were created by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). These new Title IX regulations were announced on April 4, 2011, by Vice President Biden, and according to the Women’s Sports Foundation, “The Department of Education issued a policy guidance which made clear that Title IX’s protections against sexual harassment and sexual violence apply to all students, including athletes. It addresses athletics departments in particular when it requires schools to use the same procedures that apply to all students to resolve sexual violence complaints involving student athletes.”

In June of [2012], the Department of Education released its Title IX Enforcement Highlights report. According to this report, OCR provides detailed policy guidance documents to schools and colleges around the country with recommendations on what each school should do to meet these Title IX legal requirements. Since 2009, OCR has issued nine such documents. Three of these documents relate to Title IX, on topics such as “bullying, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and equity in athletics programs.”

Penn State University and every other college, university, and school — both public and private — need to ensure that no child assaults and no assaults or harassment of faculty, staff, students or visitors occur on their campuses. Judge Freeh’s recommendations, particularly those focusing on the campus climate and compliance to school-wide polices within the Athletics department be expanded to all forms of campus violence; additionally, Title IX polices need to be fully reviewed and implemented as well.

And as Lisa Bennett, NOW’s Communications Director said in a blog she wrote on July 12, 2012,

[I]f we can direct the conversation to the role that sexism and patriarchy played in these cover ups, perhaps we can change these systems in a real and profound way. We must not let the reverence our society has for such institutions stand in the way of an honest dialogue — in fact, it is that very reverence that smothers the potential for justice and healing.

Let’s get started now.

President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Speech: Standing for Equality

This morning, on the holiday celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, President Barack Obama was publicly sworn into office for his second term as President of the United States.  His inaugural speech was 2,095 words long. It covered many different issues from the role of government to freedom, poverty, the military, education, international interactions, and climate change.

Its over-arching message to me is that as a country and as individuals, we need come together to stand up for equality for all.

President John F. Kennedy, Jr. said something similar in his 1961 inaugural speech when he asked all Americans to help each other. He said then, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

Martin Luther King expressed similar sentiments in his “I Have a Dream Speech” in 1963:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character….I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification’ — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers….I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.’

I hope that Barack Obama’s words resonate as well. In that vein, here is how I think he best spoke about equality for all. Maybe part of this will become part of the lexicon of great Presidential speeches in the future.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.

Our journey is not complete until every one is equal, cared for, cherished, and safe from harm.  Thank you for your inspiring words, Mr. President. May all of usfrom you as leader of the US to each of us in our homes and communitieswork together  to create a better, more accepting country and world.

Message from VP Joe Biden on Gun Safety

I received an email this morning from Vice President Joe Biden that he wrote yesterday, January 16, 2013 after President Obama announced his Gun Safety Plan called “Now is the Time to Do Something About Gun Violence.”  Here’s the message with his Call to Action:

White House Logo

Hello —

Today President Obama announced a plan to help protect our kids and communities from gun violence. You’re going to hear a lot about it, but I wanted to make sure you got a chance to get the facts, straight from me.

After hearing from Americans from across the political spectrum, we decided to focus on some key priorities: closing background check loopholes, banning military-style assault weapons, making our schools safer, and increasing access to mental health services.

The ideas we sent to President Obama are straightforward. Each of them honors the rights of law-abiding, responsible Americans to bear arms. Some of them will require action from Congress; the President is acting on others immediately. But they’re all commonsense and will help make us a little safer.

Now is the time for all of us to act.

Read about the events that brought us to this point, learn about the plan we’ve proposed to help protect our kids, and then add your name in support to help build momentum for this plan.

Here’s what we’ve put together:

We’re calling for requiring background checks for all gun sales and closing the loopholes that allow dangerous individuals to make their purchase without going through one of these checks.

We’re asking for a new, stronger ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that allow a shooter to fire dozens of bullets as quickly as he can pull a trigger. And we’re asking Congress to help protect law enforcement by make it illegal for members of the public to possess armor-piercing bullets.

We’re going to give law enforcement more tools and resources to prevent and prosecute gun crimes, and we’re going to end the freeze on gun violence research that prevents the Center from Disease Control from looking at the causes of gun violence.

We’re calling on Congress to help make schools safer by putting up to 1,000 school resource officers and mental health professionals in schools and ensuring they have comprehensive emergency management plans in place.

And we’re going to increase coverage so that students and young adults can get access to the mental health treatment they may need.

We know that no policy we enact or law we enforce can prevent every senseless act of violence in our country. But if we can save the life of even one child, we have a deep responsibility to act.

Now is the time to come together to protect our kids. Learn about the plan, then add your name alongside mine:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/now-is-the-time

Thanks,

Vice President Joe Biden

 

Ideas for a Plan in Response to the Connecticut Shootings: Guest Blog

Marc Brenman is a colleague of mine. He is the former Executive Director of the Washington State Human Rights Commission and co-author of “Planning as if People Matter: Governing for Social Equity.

Marc has compiled a very detailed plan and ideas to deal with gun violence that he believes have at least some value in this discussion regarding a comprehensive gun control, safety, education, medical care, and community responses to the current climate of gun violence here in the United State.  Earlier this month, I linked one of my earlier blogs to one of the groups I am a member of on LinkedIn. After seeing a much shorter version of his thoughts in a comment to my posting, I asked him if he would like to do a guest blog detailing his thoughts on this issue.  The following is what he wrote.

Marc can be contacted directly at mbrenman001@comcast.net

Marc’s Plan in Response to the Mass Shootings in the United States

Here are some elements of a plan in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy and other similar mass murders committed with guns in the US.  Each of these has some value, and together would have great value.  Some elements are derived from others. There are pros and cons to many of these suggestions and initiatives; those aspects are generally not discussed here.

Effective enforcement of gun control laws can deter illegal gun trafficking, but loopholes, high standards of evidence, and weak penalties make it difficult to enforce laws designed to keep guns from prohibited persons. Stronger gun laws will lead to better enforcement of those laws.

Keep the Situation in Perspective

Schools are still among the safest places for our young people to be. Students are 99 times more likely to be victimized in the community—on the streets, at the mall, at movie theaters, in fast food restaurants and other public places—rather than at school.

Reframing the Discussion

Guns are a force multiplier, and make any inclination to violence much more destructive, whatever the cause. Gun use intensifies violence, increasing the case-fatality rate in assaults and “accidents.” Gun violence substantially reduces the standard of living in a community in which it is common, and not just for the immediate victims. “For many social policy applications we either must give up on the goal of evidence-based policy, or develop a broader conception of what counts as evidence.” (U. of Chicago)  “Compared with other common weapons, guns have a peculiar ability to create fear, resulting in a loss of peace of mind together with self-protective distortions in routine activities of work and play. There is no counterpart with other weapons to drive-by shootings and stray bullets.”  (U. of Chicago)

Public Education

Some mistakenly believe that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would prohibit the kinds of legal reforms we believe are warranted. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to own guns, striking down Washington, D.C.’s law banning handgun possession in the home. However, the Heller decision also mentioned numerous types of presumptively valid gun laws, including ―laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.  Since Heller, lower courts have overwhelmingly upheld the constitutionality of a wide range of gun laws other than handgun bans.

Establish a long-term public-education media campaign to change the public’s perception of gun violence. It must be understood that crime is merely the most recognized aspect of the public-health problem posed by firearms. The campaign should also be designed to educate citizens about the risks associated with firearms ownership.

Stakeholder Engagement

There are differences in the problem defining process.  If the problem is not defined well, finding solutions becomes much more difficult.  However, there will not necessarily be consensus in defining the problem.  It would be useful to have the discussion among different parties.

Recruit individuals and organizations not traditionally involved in the debate. Gun-control organizations must reach out to build active, long-term coalitions with organizations whose constituencies are affected by firearms violence, including women’s groups, youth organizations, civil-rights organizations, hospitals, consumer organizations and public-health associations. Support should also be sought from those with economic interests in reducing firearms violence, such as the insurance industry, hospital associations and criminal-justice associations.

“Since all crime is local, the response to emergencies caused by crime should start with a local plan that is linked to the wider community. Universities and colleges should work with their local government partners to improve plans for mutual aid in all areas of crisis response, including that of victim services.”  (Report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel; Office of the Governor of Virginia)

Move Quickly

“[C]riminal misuse usually follows rather quickly after gun acquisition. In other words, the millions of current gun possessors will account for little of the violent crime five years from now. A reasonable goal, then, is to increase the effective price of guns to the high-risk segment of the market.   (U. of Chicago)

Improve School Safety

Every campus should have a series of threat assessment protocols so that school officials can effectively work with mental health and law enforcement professionals in handling circumstances that could result in potential violence or harm.

“Identify whom to call in a crisis. Maintain an updated list of who to call in case of various kinds of crisis. Develop a close working partnership with these emergency responders…Create a close working partnership with mental health professionals who can assist school officials in evaluating and assessing potentially dangerous students who may threaten or intimidate others.  (National School Safety Center).”

Provide ways for students to report rumors or concerns and ensuring that students trust and feel connected to adults at their school. Recent studies by the Secret Service show that in the vast majority of student shootings, other students on the campus were aware of the event before it occurred.

Use tip lines. Tip lines acknowledge the key role that students and community members play in keeping schools safe. They also provide a deterrent effect that may preclude acts of crime and violence from occurring. Advice from educators and law enforcers around the country underscores several key recommendations for successful tip line management:

  • Make the tip line a collaborative, communitywide effort; involve students in planning and managing the tip line; regularly publicize and promote the  tip line;
  • Protect privacy and caller anonymity;
  • Keep callers informed of progress; and
  • Provide incentives or rewards.

Training every staff member to look for signs of “off behavior,” even subtle ones, from people who come into school buildings, is critical.

Ensure that classroom doors can be locked.

Control access to school buildings and grounds during school hours. “Minimize the number of campus entrance and exit points used daily. Access points to school grounds should be limited and supervised on a regular basis by individuals who are familiar with the student body.

  • Campus traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular, should flow through areas that can be easily and naturally supervised.
  • Delivery entrances used by vendors also should be checked regularly.
  • Parking lots often have multiple entrances and exits, which contribute to the vandalism and defacement of vehicles and school property.
  • Vehicular and pedestrian access should be carefully controlled. Perimeter fencing should be considered.
  • Bus lots should be secured and monitored. \Infrequently used rooms and closets should be locked.
  • Access to utilities, roofs, cleaning closets should be secured.”  (National School Safety Center)

Require faculty to wear badges or photo identification.  “All school employees should be advised to greet visitors or any unidentified person and direct them to the main office to ensure that these persons have legitimate business at the school. Teachers and staff should be trained to courteously challenge all visitors.”  (National School Safety Center)

Use security cameras.

Equip individual classrooms with telephones.  “Establish an Emergency Operation Communication System. In addition to campus intercoms and two-way radios, it is important for school officials to be able to communicate with law enforcement and outside telephone providers. This includes the use of cell phones.”  (National School Safety Center)

Have lockdown and Code Blue procedures, practices, and drills.

Use Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).  These theories hold that law enforcement officers, architects, city planners, landscape and interior designers, and volunteers can create a climate of safety in a community. CPTED’s goal is to prevent crime by designing a physical environment that positively influences human behavior. The theory is based on four principles: natural access control, natural surveillance, territoriality, and maintenance.

Youth Gun Violence

[O]ne way to prevent youth gun violence is to make the incentives that youth face to engage in prosocial activities (particularly schooling) and avoid risky behaviors (such as gun involvement) more swift, certain, and salient.  (Gun Violence Among School-Age Youth in Chicago; Crime Lab; University of Chicago).”

“Address root issues, such as poverty, social inequality, and school failure.  Gun availability has multiplier effects when combined with such risk factors for youth violence involvement as mental health problems, alcohol or drug abuse, and school failure or disengagement. “The lethality of guns means it is important to try to keep guns away from youth who are engaged in violence as an independent goal, above and beyond trying to reduce youth involvement with violent events.”  (U. of Chicago)

“[Y]oung people, criminally involved young adults, and even drug-selling street gangs respond to police pressure against illegal gun carrying and use.’ “[D]eliver a credible threat to…gangs that using guns was not going to be tolerated, and that the entire gang would suffer when any one member of the gang used a gun. The hope was to provide gang leaders with an incentive to limit gun use by the members, for fear of a police crackdown.” (U. of Chicago)

Suicide Prevention

Many people commit suicide using a gun.

“[I]t is reasonable to suppose that a policy that made it more difficult for those who consider it to use their preferred means of ending their lives (often, a gunshot) would cause some to desist (U. of Chicago).”

Gun suicides are more common among whites than blacks, and more common among the old than among young or middle-aged adults (Cook & Ludwig, 2000). Men are vastly overrepresented in all categories.

Background Checks and Record Keeping

Ensure state compliance with requirements to post appropriate mental health records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System

Establish clear reporting guidelines for when and how mental health records are required to be posted in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System so that states can be held accountable for compliance

Close the gun show loophole.  Require a full background check in all gun transactions, including private sales at gun shows and online purchases. Presently, only seventeen states regulate private firearm sales at gun shows. An advocate for closing the private sale loophole once likened current federal gun policy to an airline security system which offers passengers a choice between submitting oneself to our current screening system, or side-stepping it, and boarding with whatever you would like to bring on board.  Approximately 40% of the guns acquired in the U.S. annually come from unlicensed sellers, who are not required by federal law to run background checks on potential gun purchasers.

If an individual privately sells guns to anyone, he or she must first report it to local authorities.

Fully fund state technology efforts to comply with the federal background check system requirements.

Require states to comply fully with the protocols of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or threatening to take away their federal funding.

Require states to rerun background checks more often (a minimum of every other year) to prevent otherwise ineligible individuals from continuing to possess weapons.

Mandate federal compliance with a presidential executive order directing all agencies to submit records to this instant background check system.

Mandate that gun dealers take yearly inventories and report any lost or stolen guns and/or ammunition.

Change the Congressionally mandated Tiahrt Amendments to make it easier to trace weapons and prosecute violators. These amendments have weakened the federal gun laws by amending the Gun Control Act.  One provision of the Tiahrt Amendments requires the FBI to destroy all approved gun purchaser records within twenty-four hours of approval, making it extremely difficult for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to quickly trace crime guns or to retrieve firearms from prohibited individuals.  In other words, there is no searchable paper trail.  The Tiahrt Amendments also prohibit the ATF from requiring gun dealers to submit inventories so that the 50,000 gun dealers currently operating in the United States are not mandated to report the loss or theft of guns. State and local law enforcement are still prohibited from using trace data in civil proceedings to suspend or revoke the license of a gun dealer who has sold weapons illegally.

ATF should be empowered to operate as a health and safety agency with the ability to:

  • Set safety standards for firearms, monitor compliance with such standards and issue recalls of defective firearms. The U.S. General Accounting Office has estimated that 31% of unintentional deaths caused by firearms might be prevented by the addition of two devices: a child-proof safety lock (8%) and a loading indicator (23%)  (U.S. General Accounting Office, Accidental Shootings: Many Deaths and Injuries Caused by Firearms Could Be Prevented).
  • Restrict the availability of specific firearms, classes of firearms and firearm products when appropriate, i.e., where the products present an unreasonable risk of death or injury and no feasible safety standard would adequately reduce the risk.
  • Take immediate action to stop the sale and distribution of firearms or firearms products found to be “imminent hazards.”

Close loopholes.  Criminals who have been convicted of misdemeanors other than domestic violence are not usually banned from gun possession under the current laws.  This loophole must be closed because research has shown that one previous misdemeanor (violent or not) may be a future indicator for further violence involving a firearm. Another study revealed that individuals convicted of violent misdemeanors were eight times more likely to be charged with subsequent violent crimes, including crimes involving firearms, and that one out of every three violent misdemeanants seeking to purchase a handgun was arrested for newly committed crimes within three years of acquiring that handgun.

The best solution to the limitations of running a background check is to perform both federal and state checks before allowing a gun to be sold.

Manufacture and Sale of Guns

Prohibit the manufacture, sale and purchase of assault weapons and outlawing high-capacity bullet magazines, very large amounts of ammunition, bullets that have the sole purpose of causing great bodily injury, and aftermarket kits to convert certain firearms from semi-automatic to fully-automatic.  Define “assault weapons” better and more specifically.  Include fully automatic rifles and semi-automatic rifles and semi-automatic handguns.  One in five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty was killed with an assault weapon.  Gun shooting victims were more likely to die in larger-caliber shootings, again suggesting that the intrinsic lethality of the weapon affected the outcome (Cook, 1991).  The obvious partial solution is to restrict very large caliber gun manufacture, sales, and possession.

Prohibitions and Restrictions on Gun Ownership

Firearms Prohibitions for High-Risk Persons Should be Broadened. Our current laws permit many people who have been convicted of crimes—most misdemeanor crimes adjudicated in adult court and felony crimes handled in juvenile court—to possess firearms. Data from two studies of individuals who have committed the most serious crimes indicate that prior to committing these crimes, the perpetrators were not prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law. Many suspects charged with felony crimes are convicted of lesser charges as a result of a plea agreement. Research has shown that misdemeanants who were legally able to purchase handguns committed crimes involving violence following those purchases at a rate two to ten times higher than that of handgun purchasers with no prior convictions. Handgun purchasers with a history of arrest but no convictions have an equally high or higher risk of committing violent crimes following handgun purchases as do misdemeanants who legally purchased a handgun.

The number of drug abusers prohibited from possessing firearms might be increased significantly by revamping these regulations to, for example, expand the period following a drug conviction for which a person is prohibited from possessing firearms.

More Restrictions on Youth Purchases. Restrictions on youths’ ability to purchase and possess firearms should be broadened. Although federal law and most state law allows youth 18 to 20 years of age to legally possess a handgun, youth of these ages have some of the highest rates of homicide offending. Age-specific homicide offending rates rise sharply in the late teens and peak at age 20.  An analogy is to graduated driver’s licensing.

There should be more federal control over gun policy, particularly because the federal government is going to better internalize cross-state spillovers in gun trafficking.  In an article from Brown University in Science Daily on October 24, 2011 titled “Gun traffickers exploit differences in state laws, economist says,”

  1. Trafficking flows respond to gun regulations, with guns flowing from states with weak gun laws into nearby states with strict laws.

  2. Proximity matters: Trafficking flows are more significant between two nearby states than between two distant states. Thus, a weakening of gun laws has a more significant effect in nearby states.

  3. The fraction of crimes involving a gun tends to be higher in states exposed to weak gun laws.

Raise the Price and Increase the Cost of Illegal Gun Acquisition.

“Transaction costs in underground gun markets are substantial: prices are high relative to the legal gun market; wait times are considerable; mistrust is common between buyers and sellers; and many transaction attempts go unfulfilled, even by people who are well-connected in the underground economy (Cook, Ludwig, Venkatesh, and Braga, 2007).”

The underground market seems to work far less smoothly for guns than for drugs, perhaps in part because guns, unlike drugs, are durable goods, so the number of market transactions is lower and exchange becomes more difficult to manage. These patterns suggest opportunities for enforcement efforts that disrupt the illicit gun market. Measures such as buy-and-bust operations or efforts to incentivize arrestees to provide information about buyers and sellers in the gun market may prove more effective than those directed at illegal drugs.” (U. of Chicago)  “Diverting high-risk buyers from the primary to the secondary market (by, for example, improving background checks or cracking down on rogue dealers) would further increase prices in the latter by increasing demand (Cook & Leitzel, 1996).”

Safety Training

Mandatory Training on Gun Safety for Gun Owners and Users.  Tie this requirement to federal funding of states.  If there is no such training, then a withdrawal or deferral of federal funding occurs. Life, health and homeowner insurance companies deny any injury or liability claims caused by unregistered weapons/ammo owned by the claimant, or if the gun owner failed to take the requisite training.

Require any person seeking to own, possess, purchase or otherwise acquire a firearm to obtain a firearm safety certificate, which obligates the applicant to successfully complete a safety training course that includes live firing, a safe-handling demonstration and a written test of firearm laws.

Require Training for Concealed Carry.  There is a critical lack of accountability required for gun ownership, especially for carrying a gun in public.  For example, one does not have to be a trained marksman to own a gun or carry a concealed weapon in many states; a course is required for concealed carry in most, but not all, states, most notably in the states that do not require permits for CCW.  Require periodic recertification.

 Reporting loss or theft of weapon

Require any firearm owner or possessor to report the loss or theft of his or her firearm to law enforcement within 48 hours of the time he or she knew or reasonably should have known of the loss or theft.

Detection of Incidents

Install Gunfire Detection Systems. Such systems help law enforcement detect the physical location of the gunfire, review video of the location, and dispatch an appropriate response. Gunfire detection systems have been shown to produce safer communities, produce 80% more arrests, and provide evidence for court.

Storage, Safes and Trigger Locks

Mandatory trigger locks and gun safes for gun owners. Installation of gun cabinets may improve gun and ammunition storage practices.  Financial assistance to gun owners, such as tax incentives, can be provided to gun owners for this purpose.

Child access prevention (CAP) laws require gun owners to store their firearms so that children and teens cannot easily access firearms unsupervised. Studies have found CAP laws to be effective in reducing accidental shootings of children by as much as 23%, and suicides of adolescents by 8%. Keeping firearms locked, unloaded, and storing ammunition in a locked location separate from firearms may assist in reducing youth suicide and unintentional injury in homes with children and teenagers where guns are stored (David C. Grossman et al., Gun Storage Practices and Risk of Youth Suicide and Unintentional Firearm Injuries, 293 JAMA 707, 711-13 (Feb. 2005).

Require trigger locks.

Retrieve weapons from ineligible individuals.

Policies regulating the retrieval of weapons from ineligible individuals are also seriously inadequate.  For example, if a crime is committed after the purchase of a gun, it remains unclear in several states which law enforcement agencies must be notified, if any, and which procedure law enforcement must follow to retrieve weapons from the person accused or convicted of a crime.  Moreover, laws often do not mandate that stolen guns be reported to law enforcement officials, so a stolen gun could easily be used to commit violent crimes

Alcohol Use

Expanding firearm prohibitions to include persons who are alcoholics or problem drinkers could potentially reduce alcohol-related violence.  Substance abuse is associated with a significant increase in violent behavior. It’s a much more significant risk factor than mental illness.  Therefore, create and make more severe the penalties for using a gun while drinking alcohol, as well as for using a gun while on certain medications known by medical experts to cause agitated or aggressive behavior. Federal firearm laws do not prohibit alcoholics from possessing firearms, and only 16 states have statutes prohibiting alcohol abusers from possessing firearms. Furthermore, some states with gun prohibitions for alcohol abusers lack regulations to allow authorities to enforce the prohibition.

Trafficking

Make gun trafficking a federal crime, with stiff penalties for those who arm criminals.

Mental Health Services

Fully Fund Mental Health Services.  Fund these services through a special tax on guns, ammunition, and permits dedicated to mental health screening, counseling, and services. Instituting and expanding programs that work through schools to identify and help students with issues, helping families with at risk children, and adults with crisis counseling might help create a safer environment.

  • Ensure access to mental health care, including treatment and medication.
  • Establish 24/7 walk-in crisis centers.
  • Provide annual mental health screenings in schools, as is often done for vision, hearing, and dental issues.  Maintain confidentiality as necessary, but don’t let confidentiality requirements interfere with provision of necessary services.
  • Conduct screenings in pediatricians’ and doctor’s offices for boys and young men with a history of a traumatic event of many types.  Screening can also be done by school counselors and school nurses.  Include in the screening probing for a history of acting on threats or of having violent or destructive behavior.  Other screening factors include self-loathing, rage, social marginalization, family problems, work or school problems, and precipitating crisis events.  Substantial evidence indicates that perpetrators of murder–suicide share many of the following characteristics: (1) they had troubled childhoods, (2) they lived in oppressive social environments, (3) they suffered from low self-esteem, (4) they were triggered by a personal crisis, (5) they were seeking revenge, and (6) they were seeking fame and glory.  Many suffered grotesque physical and /or psychological abuse during childhood, including injury in the company of their caregivers.
  • Under the IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, students with emotional disorders are supposed to receive free and appropriate services in K-12 schools so that they can remain in school and succeed in life. However due to the high cost of these services, school budgetary cuts, resistance by some school districts, and the lack of knowledge by parents that these programs are mandated, but not fully implemented, many young people drop out or do not receive the services they need.  These Acts should be fully funded and enforced.
  • Expand the Australian concept of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training. The idea behind MHFA is no different than that of traditional first aid: to create an environment where people know how to help someone in an emergency situation. Not only does the course increase mental health literacy, according to studies of the Australian model, but it’s also shown to improve the mental health of those taking the training, making them more confident in dealing with people who have a mental health illness. Participants learn how to detect a number of mental illnesses — including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychosis, substance use disorders, depression, anxiety and eating disorders — and how to respond to people who have them. Their response is guided by a five-step action plan, termed “ALGEE,” which stands for:
    • Assess for risk of suicide or harm.
    • Listen nonjudgmentally.
    • Give reassurance and information.
    • Encourage appropriate professional help.
    • Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

One of the program’s main goals is to erase the stigma associated with mental health illnesses.

Remove the requirement that youth under age 18 must consent to mental health treatment.  Instead, make provisions in case this is not possible: require that a parent/ guardian must consent to the treatment and a mental health professional that has knowledge of the case and an unrelated professional such as a teacher, pediatrician, etc. For example, a 13-year-old mentally-ill person may or may not consent to treatment. However, they are still likely living with a parent/ guardian.

Provide other options for mentally ill youth and adults who are returning to the community (often to a parent or relative’s home) after in-treatment or institutionalized care.

Provide more opportunities for respite for parents of children with mental illness. Include insurance coverage for this type of care.  Help provide infrastructure, care and support to maintain the mental health of the parent/ guardian caring for the child.

Medical Services

End medical gag laws.  Some states, such as Florida, have passed laws that prohibit doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership, even though studies clearly show that gun ownership is a health risk factor for the owner and his family. A group of Florida doctors and physician groups soon filed a lawsuit, arguing that the outrageous law interfered with their free speech rights under the First Amendment, as well as their ability to care for their patients by warning them about the dangers of firearm ownership. The district court agreed, finding that “[t]he law chills practitioners’ speech in a way that impairs the provision of medical care and may ultimately harm the patient.” The court’s order prohibited the state from enforcing the law.  The American Bar Association has also spoken out against “medical gag laws.” At its annual meeting the ABA adopted a resolution expressing strong opposition to such laws. The accompanying report stated,

For medical practitioners to meet their preventive care and safety counseling responsibilities, they must be able to discuss a broad range of topics with their patients related to known risk factors. This unfettered access allows doctors to adequately assess and address these factors with their patients. Risk factors that may be discussed vary depending on the age of the patient, but for adults often include alcohol consumption, illicit drug use, smoking, diet, and exercise; pediatricians often discuss wearing seat belts and bicycle helmets, the potential dangers of backyard swimming pools, and the need to securely store household cleaners and toxins. Firearms in the home are another known risk factor that doctors may choose to discuss with their patients or the parents of young patients.

Threat Assessment

Use a threat assessment approach.  Look at the person’s personal risk factors and ask,

  • “Do they have a history of mental illness?”
  • If students, what kinds of behavioral problems have they had? What are their relationships like?

Also look at protective factors:

  • Do they have someone they can talk to?
  • Are there guns in the home?  Are they locked up?
  • Are there signs such as social withdrawal, irritability, and a change in habits?

The best predictor of future behavior is past behaviors. A history of violence towards family members, toward others, towards animals is a warning sign.  A common pattern for school shooters is being male, having a history of loss or a perceived failure or rejection, and having access to firearms.

For example, despite being rejected by the military because of a history of illicit drug use and being kicked out of a community college for repeated incidents of threatening and bizarre behavior, Jared Loughner, the Tucson, Arizona, mass gun murderer, legally purchased a semi-automatic pistol with a magazine capable of holding 30 rounds of ammunition.

“Some warning signs carry more weight than others.  For instance, a fascination with, and possession of, firearms are more significant than being a loner, because possession of firearms gives one the capacity to carry out an attack.”

According to Roger Depue in the Virginia Tech Review Panel Report, the “following are some warning signs (indicators and red flags) associated with school shootings in the United States.  Schools, places of employment, and other entities that are creating a threat assessment capability may want to be aware of these red flags:

  • Violent fantasy content –   Writings (Stories, essays, compositions),
  • Drawings (Artwork depicting violence),
  • Reading and viewing materials (Preference for books, magazines, television, video tapes and discs, movies, music, websites, and chat rooms with violent themes and degrading subject matter), and role playing acts of violence and degradation.
  • Anger problems –   Difficulty controlling anger, loss of temper, impulsivity,
  • Making threats
  • Fascination with weapons and accoutrements –  Especially those designed and most often used to kill people (such as machine guns, semiautomatic pistols, snub nose revolvers, stilettos, bayonets, daggers, brass knuckles, special ammunition and explosives)
  • Boasting and practicing of fighting and combat proficiency –
  • Military and sharpshooter training, martial arts, use of garrotes, and knife fighting
  • Loner –  Isolated and socially withdrawn, misfit, prefers own company to the company of others
  • Suicidal ideation –
  • Depressed and expresses hopelessness and despair
  • Reveals suicidal preparatory behavior
  • Homicidal ideation –
  • Expresses contempt for other(s)
  • Makes comments and/or gestures indicating violent aggression
  • Stalking – Follows, harasses, surveils, attempts to contact regardless of the victim’s expressed annoyance and demands to cease and desist
  • Non-compliance and disciplinary problems –  Refusal to abide by written and/or verbal rules
  • Imitation of other murderers –
  • Appearance, dress, grooming, possessions like those of violent shooters in past episodes (e.g. long black trench coats)
  • Interest in previous shooting situations –  Drawn toward media, books, entertainment, conversations dealing with past murders
  • Victim/martyr self-concept –  Fantasy that some day he will represent the oppressed and wreak vengeance on the oppressors
  • Strangeness and aberrant behavior –   Actions and words that cause people around him to become fearful and suspicious
  • Paranoia –   Belief that he is being singled out for unfair treatment and/or abuse; feeling persecuted.
  • Violence and cruelty –   A history of using violence to solve problems (fighting, hitting, etc.), abusing animals or weaker individuals
  • Inappropriate affect –   Enjoying cruel behavior and/or being able to view cruelty without being disturbed
  • Acting out –  Expressing disproportionate anger or humor in situations not warranting it, attacking surrogate targets
  • Police contact –   A history of contact with police for anger, stalking, disorderly conduct;
  • Past temporary restraining orders (or similar court orders),
  • A jail/prison record for aggressive crimes
  • Mental health history related to dangerousness – A history of referral or commitments to mental health facilities for aggressive/destructive behavior
  • Expressionless face/anhedonia – An inability to express and/or experience joy and pleasure
  • Unusual interest in police, military, terrorist activities and materials
  • Vehicles resembling police cars, military vehicles, surveillance equipment, handcuffs, weapons, clothing (camouflage, ski masks, etc.)
  • Use of alcohol/drugs –  Alcohol/drugs are used to reduce inhibitions so that aggressive behaviors are more easily expressed”

National success in reducing injuries from car crashes can serve as a model for reducing firearm injury.  Just as speeding or distracted driving escalates risks on an unsafe road, misuse of firearms in the wrong places and at inappropriate times can intensify risks for violent injury and death. A patient’s firearm risks should be examined in the context of his or her environment, their household, and their history of risk-taking behaviors.

Patient Safety

The military, the Veterans Health Administration, and the wider medical community should create a trusted mechanism for safely removing and temporarily storing firearms on a patient’s behalf with his/her consent.

Suicide Prevention

The issue of guns should be linked to the issue of suicide prevention. Access to firearms is a risk factor for suicide.  Firearms used in youth suicide usually belong to a parent.

Reducing access to lethal means saves lives. The best generally available proxy for gun prevalence is the fraction of suicides that involve a firearm (FSS), which is highly correlated with survey-based measures of gun ownership rates in cross-section data (at both the state and county level), and also tracks movements over time at the regional and state levels (Azrael, Cook, & Miller, 2004; Kleck, 2004; Cook & Ludwig, 2006). “[S]tates with relatively high gun ownership rates also have a higher ratio of male-to-female suicides compared with states with fewer guns. These findings are consistent with the idea that guns increase the lethality of suicide attempts. (U. of Chicago)

Lethal Means Counseling

Nurses and other emergency department personnel in hospital emergency rooms should provide “Lethal means counseling.”  This means:

  • Assessing whether a person at risk for suicide has access to a firearm or other lethal means, and
  • Working with them and their family and support system to limit their access until they are no longer feeling suicidal.  Psychiatrists should also provide such counseling in their practices. Among families of high risk youth, those who received the counseling were significantly more likely than those who had not to remove or secure the dangerous items.  Others who come into contact with suicidal people should also provide such counseling.

Emergency departments and trauma centers offer the opportunity to reduce repeat or retaliatory violence in injured youth.  Addressing distress and mood disorders, providing relationship therapy, brief interventions for at‐risk drinkers, nutritional supplements, and encouraging help-seeking can lower risks for future violence.

Social Safety Net

Improve the social safety net generally, so that fewer people fall through the cracks.

Mandatory Reporters. Tighten rules for mandatory reporters, so that more people with violent potential come to the attention of law enforcement.

Community Oriented Policing. Restore funding for the Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program, to put more police back in communities. Directed police patrol against illicit carrying has promise for reducing gun violence.

Use other targeted harm reduction strategies, analogous to those used for illegal drugsHarm reduction is a pragmatic, public-health approach to dealing with drug-related issues that focuses on minimizing the negative consequences of drug use and drug laws and policies. Providing an alternative to the U.S. prohibition-based abstinence model, harm reduction favors effective and low-cost approaches like needle exchange and methadone treatment. These approaches are legal in New York State, and have successfully reduced drug use, crime, and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Gun Owner and Retailer Responsibility.  Gun enthusiasts should police other gun enthusiasts, and learn to notice and act on signs of potential violence.  For example, firearm retailers and range owners can help prevent suicide by

Use guidelines with gun store/firing range owners about how to avoid selling or renting a firearm to a suicidal customer

Encourage gun stores and firing ranges to display and distribute suicide, anger, and violence prevention materials tailored to their customers, including materials, resources, and hotline telephone numbers and websites.

Experience has shown that higher-yield interventions include third-party reporting of concerns or leaked intent.

James Knoll:  “An open and fearless heart seeks to take responsibility for its own anger. It does so by learning how not to externalize blame, being willing to examine itself, and cultivating responsibility.”

Media Coverage.  The media, in covering a mass murder shooting, should ensure that the perpetrator is neither glorified nor demonized.  Avoiding much emphasis on the perpetrator is a good general rule. Rather, media should emphasize victim and community recovery efforts.

Product Liability Laws

Firearms are the only consumer product not regulated by a federal agency for health and safety. This unique exemption has been exploited by the gun industry as it has moved to embrace increased lethality as the foundation of its design, manufacturing, and marketing efforts in the wake of the long-term decline in household gun ownership.

Apply the decades-long lessons of consumer product safety regulation and injury prevention to the gun industry and its products. Strengthen product liability laws, so that gun manufacturers have at least some liability for the damage that their guns do. Congress enacted a law in 2005 that gives gun manufacturers and dealers broad immunity from being sued. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) shields the gun industry.  This law should be rescinded. Before the PLCAA, lawsuits were starting to prod the gun industry to act more responsibly. In 2000, Smith & Wesson, the nation’s largest handgun manufacturer, agreed to a variety of safety conditions to end lawsuits that threatened to put it in bankruptcy. Among other things, Smith & Wesson agreed to put a second, hidden set of serial numbers on all of its new guns to make it harder for criminals to scratch away the identifying markings.  But the PLCAA took away the pressure to work on safety.

Consumer Product Regulation and Safety Devices

The nation has decided to regulate the design of numerous consumer products, such as cribs and small, high-powered magnets, in order to prevent far fewer deaths than could be prevented with a ban of large capacity magazines for example.  We need a holistic approach to protecting children.

Safety Disconnect Devices.  Although unintentional or accidental shootings account for a small share of firearm-related mortality and morbidity, these deaths and injuries are highly preventable through proper design of firearms. Some of these incidents occur because inexperienced gun handlers, often children, do not realize that a gun is loaded, or that a pistol can have a round loaded in the chamber to fire even after the ammunition clip is removed. Unintentional shootings of this type can be prevented by magazine safety disconnect devices and loaded chamber indicators, relatively inexpensive safety features already available on some handguns.

Biometrics. Technological fixes so that only the registered owner can shoot the gun. Guns can be designed so that they cannot be fired by unauthorized users, and thus, prevent unintentional and self-inflicted shootings by underage youth, as well as some crimes committed with stolen guns  (Teret SP, Webster DW. Reducing gun deaths in the United States: personalized guns would help – and would be achievable. British Medical Journal 1999:318:1160-1161).

Safer gun technology exists, but most manufacturers, not required by law to incorporate safety into their designs, have been reluctant to make use of it.  The technology to manufacture child-resistant handguns has existed since the late 1800s when Smith & Wesson produced a handgun with a safety grip, and claimed that “no ordinary child under eight years of age [could] possibly discharge it.”

Also, technology exists to “personalize” a gun so that only the authorized user can operate it.  Methods for personalization include low-technology devices such as combination locks and high-technology electric, radio frequency, or magnetic sensory devices.  Colt’s Manufacturing Company, Inc. (Colt) has developed working prototypes of a personalized gun which use radio frequency technology.  In 1996, Sandia National Laboratories released a report of its work on personalized gun technologies.

Liability Insurance

Gun holders should be required to purchase additional liability insurance to cover gun incidents that cause harm to themselves and other. Proof of insurance should be provided as a condition to purchase a gun.  The analogy is to car insurance.

Divestment

Institutional and other investors should divest from gun manufacturers. For example, the father of Stephen Feinberg, founder of Cerberus, the private-equity firm that owns gunmaker Freedom Group Inc., lives in the town where a Freedom Group-made rifle was usedto kill 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut’s elementary school. Martin Feinberg is a resident of Liberty at Newtown, a community for people 55 and older that’s about 6 miles from Sandy Hook elementary school. Cerberus today announced on December 18, 2012 that it will sell Freedom Group.

Advertising

In the absence of rules governing the design of firearms, regulating the way guns are advertised may be a useful public health intervention. Some gun advertisements include messages suggesting that bringing a handgun into the home is generally protective for the occupants of the home. The best available scientific information contradicts this message. Given this disjunction, regulating those advertisements may be an appropriate response.

Under federal law, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has authority to prohibit advertisements that are “deceptive” or “unfair.” Under the FTC’s deception analysis, the focus is on whether consumers are misled by an advertisement. For a finding of unfairness, the FTC looks for advertisements that may cause substantial injury to consumers. Under either analysis, a strong argument can be made that firearm advertisements promising home protection are unlawful.

The Prevalence of Evil People rather than Demonizing the Mentally Ill

Broaden the discussion beyond mental health to include evil people, and learn to recognize the signs of evil.  James Scully, MD, CEO of the American Psychiatric Association has stated, “The idea that mental illness and evil are one and the same thing is simply a relic of the past and has no place in our public dialogue.  People who are clearly not mentally ill commit violent crimes every day.”

Most mass shooters have not had a mental illness but instead were very angry and/or seeking vengeance. According to the psychiatrist James Knoll,

“The majority of research indicates that there are factors common to mass murderers, such as extreme feelings of anger and revenge, the lack of an accomplice (in adult mass murder), feelings of social alienation, and planning/organizing the offense. In a detailed case study of 5 mass murderers who were caught before they were killed, a number of common traits and historical factors were found.  The subjects had all been bullied or isolated as children, turning into loners who felt despair over being socially excluded. They were described as suspicious, resentful, grudge-holders who demonstrated obsessive and inflexible thinking. Not surprisingly, they were also narcissistic and coped with personal problems by blaming others. Their worldview was characterized by seeing most others as rejecting and uncaring. As a result, they spent a great deal of time nurturing their resentment and ruminating on past humiliations. The ruminations evolved into fantasies of violent revenge. They did not see their own violent death as a deterrent, particularly because they perceived it as bringing them fame with an aura of power.” Besides access to a gun, other factors often found in killing of family members (familicide) include the presence of a stepchild, substance abuse by the perpetrator, domestic violence, jealousy, and economic stress.  In familicide cases, studies have found that 91–95% of the time the perpetrator is a man.

“Rampage shooters are generally assumed to be mentally unbalanced, while suicide bombers are seen as extreme, but rational, political actors. However, this review explores the possibility that the primary differences between the two types of killers are cultural, not individual, and that in terms of their underlying psychology and motivation, they are actually quite similar.”  (Adam Lankford and Nayab Hakim; From Columbine to Palestine: A comparative analysis of rampage shooters in the United States and volunteer suicide bombers in the Middle East in Aggression and Violent Behavior; Volume 16, Issue 2, March–April 2011, Pages 98–107)

It can be argued that the evil does not lie within the shooter, but within the society that permits the shooter. Barrister John Mortimore clearly stated this realization: ‘If this man was allowed to have handguns under license it is not demonic evil but a failure of resistance’ (Mortimore, cited by Squires, 131).  (Squires, Peter. Gun Culture or Gun Control?  Firearms, Violence and Society. Routledge: New York, 2000)

Concealed Carry

Tighten the rules on concealed carry of a gun. Concealed weapons are defined as “weapons, especially handguns, which are kept hidden on one’s person, or under one’s control.”  Under one’s control can also mean a gun that is easily accessed in places such as a glove compartment or under the seat of one’s car while driving.

Violence against Women

According to the Violence Policy Center’s report, When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2007 Homicide Data, 91% of murdered women were killed by someone they knew.  Because guns increase the probability of death in incidents of domestic violence, the carrying of concealed weapons (CCW) is especially problematic.

Incidence. Federal law does not prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons by private citizens, nor does it provide rules for concealed weapons permits or licenses by private citizens.  From the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (“WISQARS”) Leading Causes of Death Reports database for women’s violence-related deaths in the United States:

  • For females aged 15 to 34, homicide-by-firearm was the leading cause of death from 1999 to 2007.
  • For women aged 35 to 64, homicide-by-firearm was the third leading cause of violence-related death from 1999 to 2007.
  • Moreover, suicide-by-firearm also ranked in the top five causes of violence-related deaths for women of all ages from 1999 to 2007 with the rate increasing with age after age 35.
  • For women aged 15 to 34, the rank was third, and for women aged 35 to 64, it rose to the second leading cause of violence-related death.

A study by Harvard School of Public Health researchers analyzed gun use at home and concluded that “hostile gun displays against family members may be more common than gun use in self-defense, and that hostile gun displays are often acts of domestic violence directed against women.”

Thanks to the high level of state reciprocity, concealed weapons permits are often valid across state lines.  These policies should be ended. The correlation between carrying concealed weapons and violence against women deserves heightened research.

Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.  VAWA authorizes the government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for violent crime against women, increases the duration of pre-trial detention of accused batterers, imposes automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allows civil redress in cases that prosecutors chose not to pursue.

Fully fund these additional acts:

  • The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) as extended by the Department of Health and Human Services Appropriations Act in 2010 provides dedicated federal funding for domestic violence shelters, emergency shelters, crisis hotlines, counseling services, and victim assistance programs for the underserved.  FVPSA also funds initiatives for teen dating violence and children who witness violence.
  • Additionally, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) intervenes in child abuse, neglect, and sexual violence and improves services for both victims of child abuse and families that are experiencing domestic violence and child maltreatment.
  • Strengthen the Domestic Violence Misdemeanor Gun Ban, prohibiting anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence or of child abuse from purchasing or possessing a gun.  While well-intentioned, the Domestic Violence Misdemeanor Gun Ban has some serious limitations.  First, the law does not apply to people who are dating unless the couple has at some point cohabitated and/or have a child together.  However, there is a documented risk of domestic violence being committed by a dating partner. California has addressed this gap in federal law by enacting more stringent state laws encompassing a more comprehensive list of persons subject to firearm prohibitions due to domestic violence, including persons convicted of Intimate Partner Violence against someone they are or were dating, regardless of sexual orientation.

Improve State Laws Dealing with Interpersonal Violence. State laws should require removal of firearms from abusers to help ensure that the abusers will not have continued access to firearms to threaten or harm their victims. Twenty-three states do not have a court-ordered removal law or a police gun removal law in place.  The following elements should be included in state gun removal legislation:

  • Mandatory “shall-remove” laws are preferable to discretionary “may-remove” laws. “Shall-remove” laws limit discretion and facilitate consistent implementation in removal of guns from the abuser.
  • Requirements that guns have been used as an instrument of abuse prior to removal should be eliminated as such conditions limit the preventive potential of these laws to reduce the risk of severe and lethal abuse.
  • Laws that condition gun removal on arrest of the alleged batterer impose a link between two interpersonal violence response options that need not be connected, and they may needlessly complicate law enforcement officers’ decisions about how and when to use arrest and gun removal to achieve maximum benefit.
  • Laws that require the presence or potential risk of danger associated with the gun as a condition of police removal may be too subjective for consistent, effective implementation, and therefore this requirement is not recommended.
  • Court authority to remove guns from protective order respondents during both the temporary and permanent stages of the order are more comprehensive than laws that restrict court removal authority to the permanent order stage. Offering this protection when respondents first learn of the order is advisable, given the heightened danger for the protected party at this time.
  • Responsibility for removing surrendered guns should rest with law enforcement.
  • Relying on respondents to comply with the court’s order may result in decreased compliance with the law.
  • In general, laws that specify clear procedures for the mechanism, immediacy, and duration of gun removal and provide funding to train law enforcement and the courts in implementing these laws will increase the likelihood that these laws will positively impact victim safety.  Good laws require effective implementation and enforcement.  Advocates and policy makers in states where these laws exist can assess how law enforcement and the courts are using these laws to increase available protections for interpersonal violence victims.
  • Working with state and local officials to support efforts to ensure that these laws are effectively used is important.
  • There is a need for research that informs how these laws are being implemented, and how their implementation impacts victim, law enforcement, and community safety.

Privacy Rights

Increase the understanding of school and college officials, so that they don’t hide behind the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in mistakenly thinking they can’t do anything about potentially violent students.

Similarly, increase the understanding of HIPAA (the health care privacy act), so that practitioners understand that it doesn’t mean that potentially violent patients can be ignored or hidden.  Currently, if the threat does not seem imminent, current confidentiality rules and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) prohibit clinicians from acting on these measures, lest they set themselves up to be sued.  Therefore, a legal safe harbor should be created to protect clinicians who warn a potential victim and law enforcement authorities.

Research

Establish a National Institute of Violence Prevention at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research root causes and community solutions. We should fund the Centers for Disease Control to develop its infrastructure so it can track, assess and develop strategies to prevent gun violence, just as we do with tainted spinach and influenza.  Currently NIH is prohibited by statute from covering gun violence as a public health problem.

Revise the charter of the US Institute on Peace to allow it to work on domestic US conflict issues, such as gun violence.

Political Contributions

Overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, so that the influence of big donors will be decreased in politics.  This will reduce the influence of the NRA and arms manufacturers, which are distorting the possibility of good legislation, and make possible a more even playing field for public policy and political discussions, deliberations, and decisions.

Public Health Emphasis and Approach

Shift to more of a public health emphasis, and encourage passive safety elements, similarly to the way car safety has been approached.  People still have lots and lots of cars, but each car is much safer. Public health provides a useful framework to address firearm injury because it seeks to prevent harm to both individuals and the community.  This approach is informed by epidemiology, “the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations and the application of this study to control of health problems.”  Specifically, this approach looks for practical prevention and intervention points that occur prior to, during, or after an injury event, and can operate by addressing the agent, the host, and environment.

The prevention of firearm suicides—which outnumber firearm homicides and are not crimes—is often viewed as the responsibility the healthcare system and providers. Healthcare providers have a vital role in preventing intentional and unintentional firearm injuries and their impact on patients, families and communities.

Buy-Back Programs

Use buy-back programs for guns. “Gun “buyback” programs may seem to offer another opportunity to learn more about the effects of gun prevalence on crime. In practice, American buyback programs have had little effect on prevalence because they are brief and voluntary, and leave open the possibility of owners buying new guns to replace those they turn in.  Further, the sellers in these buyback programs have been shown to be people at low risk for criminal offending, and the guns that are turned in are often broken or quite different from those that are used in crime (U. of Chicago).  This argues for evidence-based programs.

Police Enforcement, Security Guards, and Surveillance of Potentially Dangerous People and Groups

Treat mass gun murderers as domestic terrorists.   There are burgeoning sales of 50 caliber sniper rifles—military-bred weapons that can down helicopters and penetrate armor plating, yet are easier to purchase than a standard handgun.  A study by the Violence Policy Center revealed that the Al Qaeda network had purchased at least 25 of the weapons in the United States.

FBI documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) under the  Freedom of Information Act show that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat even though the agency acknowledges in documents that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did “not condone the use of violence” at occupy protests.  Using similar criteria, extreme gun enthusiasts could be similarly surveilled, monitored, and reported on.  In fact, extreme gun enthusiasts, because they possess guns, espouse a willingness to use them, and give as a reason protection from an allegedly oppressive government, provide even greater reasons for FBI scrutiny of them.  This would help provide early warning of potential mass murders using guns.

Undercover stings of suspect gun dealers, coupled with prosecutions and publicity about the effort, can lead to substantial reductions in the number of new guns diverted to criminals.  Using this strategy, Chicago and Detroit saw reductions in the diversion of recently purchased guns from in-state dealers to criminals of 62% and 36%, respectively. States that have and enforce (through regular compliance inspections) comprehensive regulations on gun dealers have fewer guns sold by in-state gun stores that are diverted to criminals soon after retail sale.  Currently, the FBI conducts such stings of suspected terrorists.  Reframing the idea of gun violence as a form of domestic terrorist would enable similar tactics to be used against gun violence enablers.

Gun Carrying Suppression Units.  Many shootings result from spontaneous conflicts involving an individual who is illegally carrying a gun.  Some cities deploy special police units to detect and deter illegal gun carrying at times and places where shootings are common. This strategy has reduced shootings in several cities by 30% to 70% without causing the violence to spill over to nearby areas.

Call-In Meetings. Offenders in target areas with the most violent criminal histories are instructed to attend a “call in” meeting.  Law enforcement officials tell offenders at these meetings that they will be under surveillance, and will face federal prosecution if they are involved in any violence or firearm offenses.  Offenders are also offered assistance, including substance abuse treatment and job training to help them change their lifestyles.

Community leaders and family members sometimes attend to encourage positive change. This strategy is associated with substantial reductions in gun violence in Boston and Indianapolis.

CeaseFire Programs. Chicago’s CeaseFire program is a public health initiative involving outreach to high-risk youth in neighborhoods with high levels of guns violence, mediation of disputes, and efforts to promote social norms that stay away from violence.  Street outreach workers—who are typically former gang members—develop  relationships with high-risk youth, steer those youth to resources to reduce their risk (e.g., job training), and serve as positive role models.  Outreach workers also place themselves in settings where shootings tend to occur, and seek out information about conflicts that could escalate to gunfire.  When disputes arise, outreach workers (sometimes with the assistance of “violence interrupters”) help the individuals involved to appreciate the negative consequences of using violence, and offer nonviolent resolutions to the conflict.  An evaluation of CeaseFire found shootings declined in 6 of 7 intervention neighborhoods, and that the program was associated with significant reductions in shootings and retaliatory homicides in 4 of 7 neighborhoods studied.  When program implementation was interrupted as a result of funding cuts, shootings increased in the affected areas. Baltimore’s replication of the program has demonstrated significant reductions in homicides in two intervention communities.

Armed security guards in schools.  There are about 132,400 elementary and secondary schools in the US.  If each had one guard, at a loaded cost of about $100,000 per year (loaded cost means salary and benefits and overhead, etc.) then the cost for the nation would be about $13,230,000,000 per year.  Where is this $13 billion going to come from?  A special tax or surcharge on guns, perhaps?  On ammunition?  Both?

(With thanks to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Gun Policy and Research)

Finally, Getting Ready for New Challenges

3-D printing of guns. We can easily envision a future in which 3-D printers are affordable and patterns abound for products both benign and malicious, and that cut out the manufacturing sector completely.

We should be prepared to respond to this development or any other new challenge in the future.

 

The Washington State Economic Opportunity Institute is absolutely correct. The United States of America needs to join much of the rest of the world and create paid family leave for all employees – both men and women. The current, unpaid family and medical leave guaranteed under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act for employees who work essentially full-time for a minimum of one year for companies with 50 or more employees is untenable.

The current system in the US allows for time off from work when you have a family medical emergency or the birth or adoption of a child. BUT it’s unpaid. For full-time employees only. And only if you work for a large-size company.

For the majority of working people, this is either unworkable (you live pay-check to paycheck and have no backup income if you take unpaid leave) and or is unavailable.

We need to have full income protection for all employees, not just the 11 percent of private sector workers and the 17 percent of public sector workers in the US who do get paid leave.

Let your Congressional delegation know that you want paid medical leave legislation introduced and enacted into law. This law should provide at least partial income replacement when you need time off from work to take care of a child, spouse, or other family member throughout the lifespan.

Washington Policy Watch

By Lisa Belkin, from the Huffington Post

maternity and paternity leaveAs of this week, a new father in Finland may take 54 days of paid leave to spend with his child. In Australia, a similar law gives new Dads two weeks off to bond.

These are but the two newest countries to provide paternity leave, with pay. All over the world — in places as diverse as Sweden (480 days; yes you read that right), Germany (365), Italy (90), Kenya (14), Switzerland (3) and Indonesia (2) — legislators have realized that time with a child, without worry over a lost paycheck, is a right, not a frill.

And in the US?

You know the answer to that.

As Zach Rosenberg has been highlighting on 8BitDad, companies aren’t required to offer paternity leave here. That is hardly surprising because while other countries are expanding their policies to include Dads, we are essentially the…

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Violence against Women and Children: A Worldwide, National, and Local Epidemic

Violence against women and children is a worldwide, national, and local epidemic.

Yesterday, a 23-year-old medical student died in a Singapore hospital of injuries she sustained December 16, 2012 in a gang rape and severe beating on a bus in New Delhi, India. She was attacked by six men who took turns raping her and beating both her and her male friend, stripping both of them, and then throwing them off the bus.  This is just one of many forms of femicide that have occurred in India, which include rape, sexual assault, honor killings, killing of girls 5 years and younger by starvation and violence, and dowry-related murders, among others.

This is just part of the world-wide epidemic of violence against women.  According to One Billion Rising, one in three women will be beaten or raped during her lifetime.  According to the United Nations,

Violence against women takes a dismaying variety of forms, from domestic abuse and rape to child marriages and female circumcision. All are violations of the most fundamental human rights.

Forms of violence vary by country, from sex-selection abortions in countries that value men over women, to female genital mutilation that leaves women maimed and traumatized, to forced marriages, to sexual harassment and intimidation at work, to trafficking and prostitution, to rape, incest, domestic violence, murder, and rape as a weapon of war. Some of this violence occurs within the family home.  Some of this violence occurs within the community.  And some of this violence is perpetrated by the state.  It can be physical, sexual, and/or psychological.  All forms are traumatic and in some instances, deadly.

UniFem’s data on violence against women is even starker than that presented by One Billion Rising.  They report that up to 70 percent of women and girls experience sexual or physical violence during their lifetime. Among women ages 15-44, the incidence of this form of violence – mostly perpetrated by husbands, intimate partners, or people the women know – accounts for more disability and deaths than occur from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control reports a pervasive problem of “intimate partner violence (IPV).”  This is defined as rape, physical violence, and stalking by a current or former intimate partner, either gay or straight of either sex or gender identity.  On average, 24 people experience some form of IPV every minute in the US.  This is over 12 million women (mostly) and some men each year, including 1 million women who are raped each year.

This violence occurs against both children and adults.  The majority of victims are women and girls, but they also include some men and young boys, such as the young boys here in Centre County, PA who were victimized by former PSU football coach Jerry Sandusky.  As a women’s rights activist, I have been speaking out against all forms of violence against women and children since at least 1994.  You can see a history of the local issues on the National NOW website here, and here as well as in The Nation.

There is a question that this info raises in my mind. What is the status of protections to reduce violence against women locally, in the US, and around the world? The picture/answer to this question is not great.

Locally, two cases of violence have made national news.  The most well-known case is that of former PSU football coach Jerry Sandusky; he was found guilty on 45 of 48 charges related to child sexual assault and is now essentially serving a life sentence in the state penitentiary.  Penn State University received a 60 million dollar sanction from the NCAA for failure to properly handle intimate partner violence, particularly child sexual abuse  within the Athletic department, and Judge Louis Freeh issued a scathing indictment against PSU’s upper administration, the Athletics’ department, and the Board of Trustees for covering up, failing to protect potential and actual victims of sexual violence, and failing to provide appropriate board oversight. And the University could face severe fines for failure to report IPV incidences to the US Department of Education under the Clery Act.  Despite these sanctions, violence on campus still continues.  The other case is the murder here in Centre County of PSU alumna Amy Homan McGee in 2001 by her husband, Vincent.  What happened in this domestic violence case was made into a 2010 PBS documentary titled “Telling Amy’s Story.”

These cases are just two examples among many that occur here at the local level. According to the State College, PA police department, there were 76 reported cases of domestic violence and 29 cases of sexual assault in the borough alone in 2011-2012.  Yet the incidence appears to be much higher.  According to the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, over 1,000 people in the county were known to be affected by domestic violence and another 200 reported being sexually assaulted throughout the entire county during the same time period.

To assist victims of stalking, domestic violence, and sexual assault, our local community created a county-wide task force of service providers and advocates to assist, education, and advocate for the reduction and elimination of all forms of IPV.  This task force has been in existence for 20+ years.  This task force is doing a decent job of working on IPV issues and providing services and education to the community, but is now facing ever increasing funding issues.

Funding for programs at the local level come largely from state and national governments.  Both levels of funding are in jeopardy.  Here in PA, for example, Governor Corbett eliminated General Assistance funding for everyone on August 1, 2012; a larger plurality of the recipients of this very limited funding were women fleeing domestic violence who used the minimal monies available to find housing for themselves and their children.

At the national level, Congress has failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which provides funding to the Office of Violence against Women (OVW), to law enforcement, and to the judicial system to deal with all forms of IPV.  VAWA was originally created in 1995.  The bill must be reauthorized every 5 years. This means that the last reauthorization should have occurred in 2010!  The holdback?  Rather than improving the bill, many members of Congress, particularly Republicans in the US House of Representatives are calling for both cutbacks in funding and who will be covered.  We are now at a standstill since, appropriately, the US Senate is standing firm on ensuring that all victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking – including college students, immigrants, Native Americans, and LGBTQ people – are covered.  The new session of Congress will convene in January 2013 and an entirely new bill will have to be crafted.  Meanwhile victims and survivors of IPV are surviving on a temporary funding basis through March 2013 to cover anti-violence programs to save and improve their lives.  Additionally, the looming “fiscal cliff,” sequestration will result in nearly 200,000 fewer victims receiving lifesaving and cost-effective services.

And returning to the international level, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has a clear statement that all countries that have signed the treaty take “appropriate” steps to eliminate violence against women and girls.  The US signed the treaty in 1980 but never ratified it.  India ratified CEDAW in 1993, but as can be seen from recent events there, doesn’t enforce this obligation.

So where does this leave us?

Action is needed.  We need to get out on the streets and call for full funding of programs designed to reduce and eliminate violence.  Eve Ensler is organizing One Billion Rising on February 14, 2013.  Her call states,

We are calling on ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence.

It is a one-day strike and an “invitation to dance” that calls for the end of all forms of violence against women and children. If you are interested in joining women and those who love them from around the world, you can download the One Billion Rising toolkit to plan your event here.

You can also take action by telling leaders here in India as well as here in the US and in your state that enough is enough.

  1. Tell the Indian Prime Minister to meet the three demands of the women of India – 1) talk directly to the women of India about how you will deal with this violence, 2) begin expediting cases against Indian politicians who have records of alleged rape and other charges of violence against women, and 3) immediately reinstate Police Woman Damayanti Sen who was fired after she protected a gang-rape victim;
  2. Contact your US Representative and US Senators. Tell them to immediately introduce a new bill similar to the 2011-2012 Senate bill (S.1925) that covers ALL victims of violence.  This needs to be passed before March 2013 when the temporary funding extension that passed in November ends.  The new bill needs to be comprehensive and include all current victims of violence as well as battered immigrant women, Native American Women, LGBTQ persons, and violence survivors on college campuses.  You can find out more information about this issue on the National NOW website, including several links to action alerts on VAWA.  Also, tell your US Senators to finally vote for and ratify CEDAW without any reservations.
  3. Learn more about what your state’s laws and funding for programs on violence against women provide.  A good source of information for each state can be found on the OVW website; there is a page on that website that links you to resources in each state.  Once you get to your state’s links, you should be able to find action alerts and information to help improve funding and programs within your state.