Monthly Archives: February 2011

Judge Calls Rapist’s Interrogation of His Victims “Heart-Wrenching”

Child rapist Salvador Cruz was recently sentenced to 53 years in prison, but while his case is now closed, the issues raised by the way his trial was conducted remain a pressing concern. As I reported in November, Cruz insisted on representing himself and cross-examining all of his victims personally, an act which drove one young woman to the courthouse roof, threatening suicide. Other victims referred to the ordeal, which lasted for hours on end over a period of eight weeks in Seattle, Washington, as “intolerable” and “devastating.”

Sexual assault survivors already face severe obstacles to pursuing justice, and this added, horrifying prospect of having to be questioned by their own attacker creates yet another barrier that aids rapists at the expense of their victims. The young woman brought to the brink of suicide by the prospect of being interrogated by the man who raped her as a child couldn’t go through with her testimony, and thus her charges against Cruz were dropped, a deeply unsatisfying conclusion.

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Progress! House Passes Survivor’s Law to Help Prosecute Domestic Abusers

With the West Virigina House in the bag, the next stop for Celena’s Law is the state Senate. And it should power on through without much trouble.

Last week, the WV House of Delegates unanimously voted to strengthen law enforcement’s ability to prosecute domestic violence perpetrators. “Celena’s Law” is named for Celena Roby, a survivor of years of domestic abuse who sought to prosecute her husband after being held captive in their home. Yet though her violent spouse admitted to a judge that he’d held her against her will, he went free, due to the judge’s decision that Roby didn’t fear being harmed enough and a loophole in state kidnapping law. The new bill, originally penned by Roby on a Post-it, would create a new misdemeanor charge of unlawful restraint, pulling that loophole closed. Had this law existed previously, her husband would have been guilty.

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40 Hours Community Service for Killing a 17-Year-Old Girl?

Seventeen, happily engaged, and pregnant, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez’s life was just beginning when she collapsed under the brutal California sun. Forced to work nine hours without water or rest in the shade, her body gave up and she fell into her finance’s arms. Even then, her employer, Merced Farm Labor, showed more concern for covering themselves than for her safety: the workers who took her to a local clinic were told to claim that Maria had passed out while exercising. Though clinic staff rushed her to the hospital upon seeing the dangerous state she was in, it was too late: she died of a 108 degree fever. The adequate punishment for those who caused her death? Forty hours community service, apparently.

That’s the sentence San Joaquin County District Attorney James P. Willett is considering in a plea deal for Merced owner Maria De Los Angeles Colunga, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter. Safety coordinator Elias Armenta, also charged, faces 400 hours community service and a $1000 fine — still nothing in comparison to snatching away a young life. But Maria’s family and other supporters aren’t willing to let the California justice system act like her life didn’t matter. At a press conference organized by United Farm Workers (UFW), where Maria’s fiance and the uncle she lived with appeared, they made it clear that nothing short of jail time will provide justice in the beloved teenage girl’s case and send a message that the lives of farm workers are not disposable.

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Farmworkers Call Upon Supermarkets to Do the Right Thing

Advocates from Tampa, FL, to Denver, CO, to Boston, MA, are gearing up for the launch of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ “Do the Right Thing Tour” this Sunday. From college students to fifth graders, farmworkers to concerned consumers, religious leaders to musicians, they’re throwing a quote from Publix’s founder back in the faces of those who think “atrocities” in their supply chain are not their business: “Don’t let making a profit get in the way of doing the right thing.”

Things will kick off with Boston’s March to Stop Sweatshops, a little play on words (and logo) to target Stop & Shop’s refusal to sign onto the Campaign for Fair Food. The supermarket’s parent company, Ahold USA, has dug in its heel and continue to give a big fat “no” to working with CIW on making certain their shelves aren’t stocked with tomatoes juicy with slavery. Then events will really heat up with a “Do the Right Thing” rally at a Publix supermarket in sunny Tampa, Florida. Once again, on Publix: these are the people who think “atrocities” committed to provide the food they sell don’t concern them in the least.

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Family of Wrongly Incarcerated Woman Plead for Her to Die at Home

The NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted have all campaigned on Patricia Wright’s behalf, seeking to free a woman whose should never have been put behind bars. The tale of events that landed her in prison is absurd, but her sentence of life without parole, and the fact that she is now dying of stage IV breast cancer, is no laughing manner.

Fourteen years after the murder of Wright’s ex-husband, Willie Jerome Scott, an LAPD “cold case” task force resurrected the incident. Well, that seems good, right? We don’t want to let murderers go free just because a few years have elapsed. Except that, as Wendy Jason reports on the Criminal Justice cause, the task force seemed to be most preoccupied with locking somebody up than finding the perpetrator. Investigating Scott’s nephew, they discovered him already serving time for a violent crime, so they moved on — rather than think that, you know, somebody incarcerated for a related crime might be more likely to be the guilty party. I mean, it wouldn’t be any fun to prosecute somebody already in jail. Scott’s jealous lover had already died, so they didn’t bother looking into his involvement, and they never located the male sex worker last known to have been with Scott.

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Hospital Ships Paralyzed 20-Year-Old Out of the Country Without Permission

Twenty-year-old Quelino Ojeda Jimenez, a patient at Advocate Christ, suffered a severe fall at the Chicago construction site where he worked, ending up in the hospital nearly quadriplegic. It’s an extremely frightening and tragic situation for a young man to find himself in, but fortunately he was receiving medical care and had a strong support system from the local Mexican community.

Until, that is, he was shipped back to Mexico by hospital staff without his permission or even a chance to say anything in the matter, simply because he was an undocumented immigrant. “They threw him out like he was a piece of garbage,” declared disability rights advocate Horacio Esparza. One caretaker, Florinda Marcial, says she saw Ojeda crying as he was whisked away, but neither her pleas nor the attempted intervention of the Mexican Consulate in Chicago stopped the de facto deportation.

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Veterans and Advocates Condemn Military Failure to Stop Rape

“Rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment are a plague upon the United States military,” Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), stated at a Tuesday press conference announcing that a lawsuit had been filed over the military’s failure to protect women in its ranks. “American youth should not sacrifice their right to bodily integrity when they step forward to serve our nation.” Seems like that should go without saying, doesn’t it?

The lawsuit is being levied against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for negligence in addressing the sexual assault or rape of 17 plaintiffs. Three of the survivors appeared in person at the moving conference where Bhagwati spoke. Herself a former Captain in the United States Marine Corps, Bhagwati spoke of her disappointing experiences watching the senior officers accuse decorated female servicemembers of lying, while letting sexual predators get away without consequences. “I saw some of the nation’s finest servicemembers leave the military after their abuse and betrayal, while their perpetrators and the officers who willingly protected them to this day remain in uniform.”

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It’s Time for an Apology for Jim Crow-Era Gang Rape Survivor

Nearly 70 years ago, Recy Taylor was gang-raped at gunpoint. Her attackers admitted to kidnapping and raping her. And nothing was ever done about it.

As a young African-American woman living in Abbeville, Alabama, in 1944, when Jim Crow laws institutionalized discrimination against black people, her hopes of legal redress were slim. Though Taylor’s cause gained international attention through the efforts of a well-known civil and human rights activist, Rosa Parks, she couldn’t force racist and sexist law enforcement in Abbeville to take action.

Today, Recy Taylor’s name and story have been swept under the rug and go largely unrecognized in America. “The sheriff never even said he was sorry it happened. I think more people should know about it … but ain’t nobody [in Abbeville] saying nothing,” Taylor lamented in an interview with The Root.

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House Republicans Attack Funds for Cancer Screenings, HIV Testing, Birth Control

During midterm elections, most of us heard one pulsing expression of discontent against Democratic candidates: jobs, jobs, jobs. With continuing high unemployment rates, voters decided to try a different political flavor in hopes of improving their economic situation. But the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives apparently need to get their hearing checked, because it seems they heard “HIV testing, birth control, cancer screenings.” What other explanation is there for the bills they’ve chosen to prioritize?

Following the redefining rape debacle in their bill banning abortion funding, anti-choicers have turned to their favorite standby to demonize: Planned Parenthood. They propose to eliminate Title X family planning funding, deciding that millions of American women don’t need to be screened for cancer, tested for STDs or HIV, provided with birth control, or offered other important or even life-saving reproductive health care. (Some of these services provided are, of course, vital for men as well.) No doubt they’ll be ranting about abortion providers, even though there’s already a ban on using family planning funds for that procedure. With a vote imminent, immediate action to protect these services is a top priority.

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Breastfeeding: Now With Tax Exemptions

Last October, I wrote that the IRS seemed to be a wee bit confused about breastfeeding. In refusing tax exemptions for equipment such as breast pumps, which can cost up to $1000 a year, the IRS explicitly denied the existence of sufficient “health benefits” to breastfeeding that would allow it to qualify as medical care. Items that did pass their stringent requirements included support hose, acne meds, and contacts.

Well, it seems that the IRS has finally heard about the immunities to disease breastfeeding passes on to babies, or perhaps something about the positive impact on women’s health in decreasing the potential to contract certain types of cancers, or maybe took notice of the nearly 1000 Change.org members calling on Congress to pass legislation requiring the IRS to revise their position: the IRS has finally decided to recognize breast pumps and other equipment as tax-exempt medical items.

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