My 2015 annual blog report. Have a Happy New Year!

See the fireworks Civil Rights Advocacy created by blogging on WordPress.com. Check out my 2015 annual report.

Real quick summary for you:

Voting Rights button

Voting Rights

 

Map of where states stood on Medicaid Expansion as of Feb 5, 2015

Medicaid Expansion

 

Rosie the Rivater "We Can Do It!"

Feminism and Women’s Rights

 

Memorial to Helen Bechdel - picture and flowers

Memorials: This one was to Helen Bechdel

 

Picture of the stained glass windows in need of repair at St. Paul's AME church in Bellefonte, PA

Historic Preservation and Preserving Black History

 

NOW Keep Abortion Legal round

Reproductive Justice

 

Picture of a sign that says, "End Rape Culture"

End the Culture of Rape on Campuses

 

NOW "Stop Violence against Women" diamond sign

Stop Violence Against Women

 

Picture of a white pater onf cyberstalking and online threats created by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, NOW, and the Nationl Council of Women's Organizations

Cyber-stalking and Online Threats

 

Picture of fireworks associated with my 2015 blogging annual report

Fireworks for 2016. Happy New Year!

 

 

Thank you to all of my readers and have a very Happy, Peaceful, and Prosperous New Year

Source: See the #fireworks I created by blogging on #WordPressDotCom. My 2015 annual report.

Dealing with Frat Boys Who “Hold Women in Contempt”

Picture of a sign at the Window of Opportunity rally that says "End Rape Culture."

The theme of the Window of Opportunity Rally and March. This informal coalition was created last week as a “window of opportunity” to impact town and gown policies and programs to reduce/eliminate sexual assault, stalking, and harassment in our community.

A couple of days ago I reported on my participation in a rally and march on ending the rape culture at Penn State University and in the fraternity environment as expressed by the recent social media cyber bullying conducted by some members of the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity.

This morning, a member of a committee  I’m working with (thank you Bonnie) that is focusing on the cyber bullying issue sent me a link to an article in Salon that asks the question, “Why do some men hold women in contempt?”

In this article, Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at Stonybrook University discusses his research on men and masculinity and how perceptions of masculinity can and do result in behaviors such as what happened with Penn State University’s Kappa Delta Rho.

Kimmel argues that men often hold two views of masculinity. One view is that of the “good” man. The other is that of the “real” man.

The “good” man is a man who values honor and sacrifice and is willing to stand up for the little guy. And that “little guy” could be anyone, including women and others who are not part of their brotherhood.

The “real” man is a man who supports or values the view that to be this “real man” (a view often held by fraternity members according to Kimmel), you need to “man up.” Manning up includes things like never showing your emotions, never giving up, winning no matter what the cost, being a good “bro,” getting rich and getting laid.

Both views of what a man should be are often held by fraternity members. Mission statements of fraternities point to the “good” man ideal. Peer pressure within a fraternity leads the brother to “man up” and hold women in contempt with the negative behaviors linked to this view of what a “real” man should do.

Kimmel explains this disconnect between the values associated with the “good” man and the behaviors shown when women are held in contempt “as a kind of compensation for all of that manly sacrifice and teamwork” associated with being a member of the fraternity.

And this disconnect needs to be changed.

Men need to be held accountable for their contempt of women. Re-educating and adjudicating misdeeds of misbehaving frat boys within the university judicial system both need to be done. Dr. Kimmel has the right idea about this accountability. Here’s what he says,

My position on this is very simple. I think that we have to find ways to hold them to account. If you do something that is so disrespectful of others and you have basically violated something about the student code of conduct about the way you’re supposed to behave… these are the kind of things that I think campus judiciary committees should be talking about. I want to say to these guys, “You have broken something about the community, you have betrayed this community.You signed an agreement when you came to Penn State that you would abide by the student code of conduct. Well, you violated that. We now believe that you need to repair the damage you have done to this community.You’ve rent the fabric of the community and you have to repair it in some way.”

Frankly, this is something that campus judiciary can do because it’s a legal procedure, you have a constitutional right to due process in a criminal case.But you don’t have a constitutional right to go to Penn State. Penn State can decide you’ve blown it, you have now done something we find so egregious that we will now say you should separate yourself from this school; do something educational around the issues for which we are asking you to separate yourself, and then we will consider bring you back.

You have damaged the community, and now you have to do something proactive to repair it.

I agree. Penn State University, like every other university, has a Student Judicial Conduct Board. The Board has a written set of policies on student conduct that all students receive when they are admitted and which they agree to follow while at the university.

As I stated in the last blog, a full review of the policies at the university surrounding on-line cyber bullying needs to be conducted. Hopefully these policies currently  deal with such forms of misconduct. If the Judicial Conduct Standards are weak in this area, they need to be beefed up. Either way, the Board should follow Dr. Kimmel’s recommendations to the letter of the code with this current case and with all future acts of cyber bullying at the university.

Repair the damage you have done to the community. Educate yourself. Then and only then should you be allowed to come back.

Social Media Attacks on Women: Rape Culture at Penn State and Kappa Delta Rho

Picture of a sign at the Window of Opportunity rally that says "End Rape Culture."

The theme of the Window of Opportunity Rally and March. This informal coalition was created last week as a “window of opportunity” to impact town and gown policies and programs to reduce/eliminate sexual assault, stalking, and harassment in our community.

A little over two weeks ago, Penn State University’s Kappa Delta Rho fraternity was suspended by the national fraternity’s office and by the university after it was announced that the State College police were investigating the fraternity for possible criminal activity related to hazing, drug use, and the sexual exploitation of college women though the use of a private Facebook page.

The town and gown are now in an uproar.  Once again, the university is in the national spotlight for another instance of sexual misconduct.  This time via the use of social media.

So far two rallies have been held protesting the rape culture that pervades this town and campus.  One of the rallies was held yesterday. It included a speakout and then a march from the entrance gates of the University Park campus to Fraternity Row where the Kappa Delta Rho House is located.

I was the first speaker at the rally.  The following is the written version of my speech. Thank you to Michele Hamilton, NOW Mid-Atlantic Region Board Member, Vice President of Pennsylvania NOW, and President of Ni-Ta-Nee NOW and Marian Bradley, NOW Northwest Regional Director and Past President of Montana NOW for their assistance in putting these ideas together.

Once again, PSU has garnered a national demerit in the public’s view due to allegedly inappropriate sexual misbehavior.

We’re concerned that this mistreatment of women continues to happen in the PSU community.

These actions by KDR have resulted in the appropriate suspension of the fraternity. It also resulted in both police and campus declarations to further investigate what and how this happened. We applaud the University and the national office of KDR for taking these actions. We also applaud the State College police for their pro-active investigation.

We also believe that these types of sexist activities need to be reviewed within the greater milieu of the Penn State environment. This review needs to determine what additional policies and protocols should be implemented to prevent such future acts by members of the community and to hold perpetrators accountable for their misogynistic actions.

The PSU President’s Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment was charged by President Barron to “[combat] sexual misconduct and to [engage] all employees and students in a direct call to action.”   We call on PSU to add this social media bullying type of assaults to this review.

In addition to calling upon PSU to review their policies, we are also asking the public here and across the country to view these actions within the larger scope of online harassment of women. Here’s what we are talking about.

Gamergate. Doxing. Revenge Pornography. Swatting. Posting of pictures of hazing and of nude and unconscious women without their consent. Threats of rape and death via social media. These are all forms of cyber bullying that we have recently heard about across the country. And most of the victims have been women.

In light of these social media attacks, Pennsylvania NOW and Ni-Ta-Nee NOW ( the local NOW chapter) have signed on as organizational supporters of Representative Katherine Clark’s (D-MA) “Dear Colleague” letter sent to her Congressional colleagues in an effort to highlight concerns about gender violence on all forms of social media. This letter, through Congress’ oversight and review process, urges the US Department of Justice to “intensify their efforts to combat cyber stalking, harassment, and threats.”

After the speak-out, we marched to the Kappa Delta Rho House about 12 blocks away.  During the march several reporters came up to me for additional comments.  One of the reporters – Hannah Sarisohn for the PSU Daily Collegian asked me about the Task Force appointed by President Barron that I mentioned in my speech.

During our conversation, she asked me what I thought of the make-up of the student portion of the oversight committee. She told me that the only two student representatives are a sorority sister and a fraternity brother.  No other part of the student community is represented on this task force.  I said, “that’s not right. That’s not enough.”  She then used part of what I said in the article she wrote:

Joanne Tosti-Vasey, resident of Bellefonte and regional director for the Mid-Atlantic region of the National Organization for Women, said while the task force is a good step, more than fraternity life needs to be looked in to.

“We have students not in greek life who need representation. [Undergraduate students, graduate students, students of color,] LGBTA students and students with disabilities, everyone needs representation,” Tosti-Vasey said. “The task force needs to include people from all of these backgrounds.”

Finally, here are some of the pictures I took at the Rally and March:

Signs at that protest rally that say "Kick down rape culture" and "This is not satire."

The protest started and ended at the entrance gates to the Penn State University. About 50 people participated. These are a few of the signs seen at the rally.

picture of more protesters and signage at the Window of Opportunity Speak Out and March

More protesters and signage at the Window of Opportunity Speak Out and March

Picture of a toddler and her mother carrying a sign that says, "I want to grow up in a town what I know I am safe."

The youngest protester (three years old) at the rally carried her own sign on the shoulders of her mother. Here she is with her mother Gina Thompson of Bellefonte, PA who is speaking to one of the reporters that covered the event.

Picture of protesters shouting "Shame on You" in front of the Kappa Delta Rho House in State College, PA

After the speak-out, most of the protesters marched about 12 blocks to Fraternity Row to bring our protest to the front door of Kappa Delta Rho, the fraternity whose members created the online Facebook page that is now under investigation for potential criminal activities. Afterward we marched back to the Gates at PSU to wrap up the rally.

NOW Public Censure Statement re: G. Todd Baugh

Today at 1:00 p.m. MDT, the Montana Supreme Court held G. Todd Baugh’s public censure hearing in Helena Montana. Here’s a video of the entire hearing, courtesy of the Billings Gazette.

 

We were one of the complainants who filed a Judicial Conduct complaint against Baugh last fall. We were in court  today to tell Baugh, the Supreme Court, and the country why we filed the complaint and what we thought of Baugh’s actions as a sitting judge who was supposed to fairly mete out justice for all.

Unfortunately Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW were not allowed to speak about our concerns before the Court. We had expected to deliver these comments publicly. Since we were unable to speak them, we sent our statement directly to Baugh.  We have also let the press know that this statement is available on this blog.

The following is our official statement:

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

Mr. Baugh:

We are Marian Bradley and Joanne Tosti-Vasey, representing, respectively Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW, state chapters of the National Organization for Women. We are one of the eight sets of complainants that filed an ethics violation complaint against you, Mr. Baugh.  We believe you mishandled this rape case and as a result you impugned the judiciary.  Your statements blaming the victim and your failure to follow state law in sentencing Stacey Rambold were outrageous and unconscionable.

We filed this complaint on behalf of men, women, and children in Montana as well as men, women, and children across the country.  We believe that it is long past time for Montana’s authorities to protect the right-thinking citizens of and visitors to Montana from sexual predators rather than freeing those predators so that they can rape again.

We represent the more than 250,000 people around the world who called for your resignation or removal and the 350 sexual assault survivors who signed a letter calling for your removal. When we filed our complaint to the Judicial Standards Commission on September 24, we included copies of the petitioners’ names, the sexual assault survivor letter and copies of two news articles condemning your actions.

On Monday, August 26, 2013, you sentenced confessed child rapist Stacey Rambold to only 31 days in jail for that offense.  You justified that slap-on-the-wrist sentence by commenting, incredibly, that the 14-year-old child victim – two years under the legal age of consent – was “as much in control” of the rape as her 49-year-old teacher because, according to you, she was “older than her chronological age.” You then attempted to justify this sentence by telling the press that this rape “was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies.”

Mr. Baugh, your victim-blaming, rape-trivializing, rapist-protecting comments and actions come less than a year after the United States Department of Justice was called in to address civil rights violations and rape victim-blaming by the University of Montana, Missoula County and Missoula City authorities over many years.

Our complaint raised three ethical issues that we believed you violated.  The issues we raised were:

That you did NOT act at all times in a manner that promoted public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and that you did not avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety (Rule 1.2);

That you did NOT uphold and apply the law, nor did you perform all duties of your judicial office fairly and impartially (Rule 2.2); and

That you in the performance of your judicial duties, by your words as well as your conduct, showed manifest bias or prejudice against the victim based upon her race, sex, gender, age, and socioeconomic status (Rule 2.3).

The Judicial Standards Commission found that you violated the ethical issue of impropriety. The Montana Supreme Court in overturning your 31-day sentence of Rambold on April 30 essentially found that you violated the second ethical issue by failing to uphold and apply the law. And when the Montana Supreme Court overturned this sentence, they ordered this case to be reassigned to a new judge because your statement at trial evidenced bias against the victim.  That essentially means you also violated our third complaint of showing bias against the victim – a young, Hispanic, lower-income girl.

You used three different rape myths to justify your actions. By doing so, you used a form of gender bias that destroyed the integrity of the judicial process and contravened Montana law. Rape myths are forms of gender bias that have no place in a justice system that strives to provide an impartial forum for all participants.  As the Honorable Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in 1994, “When people perceive gender bias in a legal system, whether they suffer from it or not, they lose respect for that system, as well as for the law.”

What did you do?  You blamed the victim for the rape. You invoked the belief that this wasn’t “real” rape because it did not involve physical violence. And you invoked the myth of girl provocateur, also known as the Lolita Effect, to deny the power and control a teacher has over his student.

You relied on these rape myths to impose your sentence against Rambold. You trivialized the act of rape by stating that the crime was not a “forcible, beat-up rape.” By doing so you downplayed the fact that a teacher took advantage of and sexually assaulted a girl under his power and control. You blamed the victim by claiming she had control over the rape.

This young girl, Cherice Moralez, experienced such psychological and emotional damage that she ultimately died by suicide even before the case came to trial.  Your statements about the victim being as much in control of the situation as Rambold and then giving a slap-on-the-wrist sentence to Rambold is insupportable as a matter of fact and law, given her age and vulnerability.

Children and adolescents are vulnerable to coercion and social pressure by adults and figures of power. Your use of these rape myths diminished and made invisible a young vulnerable girl. Your statements result in a chilling effect on other victims of sexual assault. It also places a chilling effect on the public and others within the judicial system. If we are unable to trust and rely on the justice system to properly weigh the relevant factors in addressing sexual assaults, we all lose confidence in the integrity of the judicial process.

We would have preferred that the Montana Judicial Standards Commission and the Montana Supreme Court had immediately removed you from the bench so that you could no longer impugn the integrity of the court and return the court in Yellowstone County to a full sense of fairness for women, children, and other victims of domestic and sexual violence.  Instead they chose to give you a similar 31-day “sentence” that you gave to Stacey Rambold.  In his case, it was 31 days in jail with one day suspended; in your case it’s 31 days without pay. We accept that decision. However we are concerned that as long as you remain seated on the bench that the public in Montana, around the country and throughout the world will continue to question the fairness and integrity of the judicial system in Montana.

We therefore suggest that not only do you fully accept today’s censure and the suspension, but that you also apologize for your actions to Cherice’s mother and all victims of sexual and domestic violence and that you immediately either step down or recuse yourself from all future cases handed to you. Enough is enough. Your actions in our opinion require these responses from you.

Women’s Groups File Amicus Brief in Montana v. Rambold

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

In August 2013, Judge G. Todd Baugh issued a 30-day jail term for one guilty plea by Stacey Rambold for one count of sexual intercourse without consent against a 14-year old minor.  NOW, UltraViolet, and people around the world expressed outrage at this judge’s use of rape myths to minimize the assault and create a sentence that was way below the mandatory minimum for such an offense. Following the initial outrage, Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW filed a joint complaint with the Montana Judicial Standards Commission about Judge Baugh’s violation of the state’s judicial Rules of Conduct.  Then last weekend, Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW responded to Judge Baugh’s refusal to acknowledge bias and prejudice in his sentencing of Rambold.

Meanwhile the Montana Attorney General’s Office (AG) filed an appeal with the Montana Supreme Court on December 6 to remand the case back to the Yellowstone County District Court for sentencing that would follow the state law’s mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.  They are asking for minimally at least a four-year sentence.

After finding out about the AG’s intent to appeal the original jail term, Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW looked into the possibility of filing an amicus brief to the court to support the appeal.  We contacted two members of our network of women’s legal advocacy organizations—The Women’s Law Project and Legal Momentum—to see if there was any interest in pursuing this amicus.  They were interested and helped put us in contact with Legal Voice and the Sexual Violence Law Center. Both of these organizations are based in Seattle, Washington and serve women in Montana.  As a result, all five organizations agreed to take on this amicus; Attorney Vanessa Soriano Power and other members of the law firm Stoel Rives LLP took the lead in writing our brief.   Thank you all for assisting and working with us on this brief.  We couldn’t have done it without your legal expertise and caring about this miscarriage of justice.

The amicus brief we filed focuses on rape myths and their inappropriate impact in adjudicating and sentencing in sexual-assault cases.  We are asking the court to take the effect of these types of myths into account when making their decision in this case and, upon remand, to assign the case to a new judge for sentencing.

We state in this brief that rape myths are a form of gender bias that destroys the integrity of the judicial process and contravenes Montana law. The three myths we focus on are:

  1. Blaming the Victim
  2. The Myth of the Nonviolent Rapist and Implied Consent
  3. The Lolita Effect and Power Dynamics in Sexual Assaults

After presenting the background on these myths, we then link them to what we believe happened in this case based on the statements made by Judge Baugh and his minimal sentencing of Rambold.  We show that the District Court’s erroneous reliance on these rape myths pose a threat to sexual assault survivors’ confidence in  the judicial system. We then request that the Supreme Court use their supervisory authority to not only remand the case back to the District Court, but also to assign a new judge for the new sentencing.

Here’s the full brief for your perusal.  It was sent via overnight mail on December 12, 2013 to all parties involved in this case for delivery by noon MST today, Friday, December 13, 2013.

Montana Amici Curiae Brief final 12-12-13.pdf

CNN’s Steubenville rape trial coverage is patriarchal. Rape is a Human Rights violation. All of these media outlets need to apologize.

This is a link to a petition that you can sign and send to CNN to demand that they apologize for their patriarchal coverage of the rape verdict.

If I find other petitions dealing with other media outlets, I’ll post them as well.

Nel's New Day

Imagine a segment of Law and Order that begins with the scene of an unconscious drugged 16-year-old girl being dragged from one house to another over several hours while large football players stopped to sexually assault her, urinate on her, and spray their semen on her. No one intervened; they just called themselves the “rape crew” and joked while they took videos. The girl woke up the next morning, naked without jewelry and cellphone, in an unfamiliar house.

On this fantasy program, the police would identify the perpetrators, discover that this is a part of the male’s behavior, and then bring justice to the girl. Courts would try the male teenagers as adults and force them to serve actual time in prison. But I did mention that this program is a fantasy.

The first scene actually took place in Steubenville (OH); the rest of the events failed the raped girl…

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