MN Task Force to Propose Reforms in Sex Assault Probes

A task force of law officers, public health officials and victim advocates vowed to scrutinize the way sexual assaults are investigated in Minnesota, with the goal of recommending reforms to the legislature. The Minneapolis Star Tribune is publishing a series that has documented pervasive breakdowns in rape investigations.

A task force of law officers, public health officials and victim advocates vowed to scrutinize the way sexual assaults are investigated in Minnesota, with the goal of recommending reforms to the legislature before it convenes in January, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said the group will have a broad mandate, from reworking sex crime statutes, to proposing more funding for officers and training, to issuing best practices for police investigations. “Let’s learn from what’s working and let’s … fix the things that aren’t working,” Swanson said. She announced the task force in July as the Star Tribune began publishing a series that has documented pervasive breakdowns in rape investigations across the state. A review of more than 1,200 sexual assault files found hundreds of cases in which police failed to take basic steps, such as collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses, and few cases resulted in convictions.

In addition to changes at the legislature, Swanson wants the task force to examine the way police departments pursue sex crime investigations, including how detectives are assigned, how evidence is preserved and whether background checks are routinely conducted. Victim sensitivity and compassion are critical, Swanson said, noting that people are more likely to cooperate with the criminal justice system if they feel they are being treated with dignity. She suggested that the group look into victims’ rights and ways to ensure that sex assault survivors are kept informed on their cases. She said the group could review model policies for law enforcement training. Minnesota’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board is developing a model policy for sex assault investigations and considering statewide officer training objectives.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Does ‘Rape Culture’ in the Media Fuel a Permissive Climate for Sex Crimes?

Biased or unsympathetic press treatment of victims is a good predictor of a high incidence of rape, according to researchers who analyzed coverage of 310,000 cases between 2000 and 2013. It also influences police to make fewer arrests , they claimed.

Rape is more common in areas where “rape culture” persists in the media, according to a new study published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science.

Matthew Baum and Dara Cohen of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Yuri Zhukov of the University of Michigan analyzed coverage of 310,000 sex crime-related articles published in 279 newspapers from 2000 to 2013.

They specifically examined how often these outlets published stories about rape, and if the stories showed evidence of what they termed “rape culture”—language that include blaming the victim, showing empathy for perpetrators, implying consent, and questioning the victim’s credibility.

Drawing on law enforcement records, the researchers found that rape incidents are more prominent in areas where the local press fosters less sympathetic attitudes towards victims. They did not appear to examine broadcast or online media.

“Does rape culture predict rape? In a word, yes,” wrote the authors.

“We find that where there is more rape culture in the press, there is more rape. In areas with more prevalent rape culture in the press, police receive more frequent reports of rape, but make fewer arrests in response.”

Moreover, they added, law enforcement in those areas make fewer arrests—and offenders are more likely to offend, and victims are less likely to report because they believe police officers, too, hold rape culture ideologies and thus would be less likely to pursue arrests.

The study found the most egregious evidence of rape culture in in counties in Minnesota, North Carolina, California, Iowa..

The authors argue that evidence of rape culture in the local news is a reflection of the community’s negative perception of sexual assault victims, and the study confirms assertions that some social norms can deter or even enable sexual violence.

“Our research can potentially help journalists and editors uncover implicit biases in their work, allow policymakers to gauge police responsiveness, activists to devise methods to reduce or mitigate sexual crime, and scholars to systematically investigate the causes and consequences of rape,” the authors write.

The authors write that though rape culture is a contributing factor, it does not completely explain differences in the incidence of rape across counties. Furthermore, only about 3 percent of the news articles analyzed contain any of the four components of rape culture, with the most common component being victim-blaming.

“That rape culture correlates with increases in documented rape cases reveals little about the direction of the relationship,” the authors observed. “Journalists may simply be less sensitive where rape is more common, or some other, unobserved factor may drive both local news content and sexual violence.”

The researchers argued that the media’s passive or hostile attitude towards rape cases was also a consequence of their commercial interests.

“If local news coverage of rape systematically features victim-blaming language, empathy for the accused, implications of consent, and incredulity toward victims, we can reasonably interpret such content as a noisy indicator of attitudes that local news consumers and journalists find normatively acceptable and commercially viable,” they wrote.

But they also warned against “over-interpreting” their findings.

“Our empirical strategy shows that rape culture in the media is a reliable local predictor of sexual crime, but these estimates do not represent a causal effect,” they wrote.

A copy of the study can be purchased here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcomed.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Students Can Cross-Examine Sex Witnesses, Court Says

In a ruling that could change how colleges handle sexual assault and misconduct cases, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said university officials must give accused students the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses.

In a ruling that could change how colleges handle sexual assault and misconduct cases, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said university officials must give accused students the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, reports Courthouse News Service. The court overturned a a judge’s ruling against a John Doe plaintiff who claimed University of Michigan officials violated his due-process rights by siding with a young woman who accused him of sexual assault after they met in 2016 at a “Risky Business” themed fraternity party at his home. An appeals court panel concluded that the stigma of being identified as a sex offender outweighed the cost to the university in allowing cross-examinations. The University of Michigan already allows them in all other kinds of misconduct cases, Circuit Judge Amul Thapar noted.

Doe’s accuser – identified in court papers as Jane Roe – filed a sexual misconduct complaint after the incident, alleging she was too drunk to consent to sex after the pair went upstairs to the young man’s bedroom. Doe countered that the sex was consensual and she did not appear drunk. After Roe filed a sexual misconduct complaint with the university, its appeals panel overruled an investigator who recommended that they close the case. Doe withdrew from the university. He sued the university, alleging a violation of his due-process rights and gender discrimination. Given the circumstances, it was not important for Doe to cross-examine Roe and her witnesses, said a trial judge. Thapar disagreed, finding that if a university’s decision in a sexual misconduct case turns on the credibility of witnesses, then cross-examination is required.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Justice System ‘Fails to Protect’ Native American Women

More than half of Native American women have encountered sexual and domestic violence at some point during their lives, even amid a wave of efforts aimed at reducing such crimes. More than 633 are reported missing, higher than their percentage of the population.

Federal data show that more than half of Native American women have encountered sexual and domestic violence at some point during their lives, even amid a wave of efforts aimed at reducing such crimes, the Associated Press reports.

The statistics reinforce arguments that the criminal justice system fails to protect these women. Its shortcomings are being exposed as another crisis gains attention: the disappearances of hundreds of Native American and Alaska Native women and girls from across the nation.

See also #Not Invisible: Why are Native American Women Vanishing? 

Congress has sought to close legal loopholes, improve data collection and increase funding for training of tribal police. Those efforts have proven severely limited, prompting advocates to again push for more reforms .

“I think the reason that Native women may go missing at higher rates than other groups of people is very similar to the reason that they are at higher risk for domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Sarah Deer, a University of Kansas professor and author of a book on sexual violence in Indian Country.

“The legal system is simply not functioning properly (to prevent) these types of things from happening.”

Last year, the FBI had 633 open missing person cases for Native American women, who comprise 0.4 percent of the U.S. population but 0.7 percent of cases. African-American women were the only other group to be over-represented. Just 47 of more than 570 federally recognized tribes are part of DOJ’s Tribal Access Program, which allows them to exchange data with national crime information systems.

Last year, the Inspector General highlighted U.S. Attorneys’ uneven track record with prosecuting serious violent crimes on reservations. At an annual meeting between tribal and federal officials, Jesse Panuccio, the Justice Department’s acting associate attorney general, identified domestic violence and sex trafficking as two underlying issues that may be linked to disappearances of women in Indian Country.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Federal Charges Against Two Men In Airline Sexual Assaults

Cases filed by the U.S. Attorney in Seattle come after an FBI campaign encouraging victims and witnesses of sexual assault aboard airplanes to come forward, during flights or once on the ground.

Federal prosecutors in Seattle charged two men with sexual assault aboard airplanes, violations that have become an increasingly recognized problem for passengers, the airline industry and flight crews, the New York Times reports. The FBI has campaigned in recent months to encourage victims and witnesses of sexual assault aboard airplanes to come forward, during flights or once on the ground. “We need the flying public’s help, and the sooner you report, the better,” said U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes. Over the last four years, the number of cases of sexual assault on aircraft investigated by the FBI. has grown by 30 percent. Aauthorities anticipate that more reports will emerge as pressure mounts for the airline industry to address assaults,.

Alaska, United and Spirit airlines have announced new policies and efforts to keep passengers and crews safe, but many other airlines have been silent. In one case filed Thursday, a woman on an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Seattle in March said a man repeatedly grabbed her woman’s breasts and thighs, even as she told him to stop. The second case involved a Norwegian Airlines flight from London to Seattle in January, in which a woman said she spent hours fending off another passenger. The woman said she then fell asleep and awoke to find the man’s hand inside her underwear, touching her vagina, and with her hand placed on his erect penis. Flight crews responded when they found the woman in the rear of the plane, on the floor, curled up in the fetal position between the galley and the restrooms. Flight crews have no police powers and cannot make arrests.

from https://thecrimereport.org

7 Get Prison Terms in ‘Crowdsourcing’ Child Porn

Seven men from around the U.S. were given prison sentences ranging from 15 to 40 years for their role in a child pornography conspiracy. The men pleaded guilty to participating in a porn production ring that involved tricking and pressuring girls — some as young as 10 — into producing pornographic material.

Seven men from around the U.S. have been given prison sentences ranging from 15 to 40 years for their role in a child pornography conspiracy, Global News reports. The men pleaded guilty to participating in a porn production ring that involved tricking and pressuring girls — some as young as 10 years old — into producing pornographic material, the U.S. Justice Department said. The men and their conspirators outside the U.S. used a specially designed password-protected website to target social media profiles of young girls. The website’s members then pretended to be minor boys and girls, and showed their targets pre-recorded videos of under-age girls engaging in sexually explicit activity. Those videos were used to peer pressure victims into also engaging in such activity on camera.

The girls were unaware that the people pressuring them were adult men, rather than similarly aged boys and girls. Videos extracted from the girls were stored on the cloud and made available for download to the website’s members. Some 91 victims have been identified from 28 U.S. states and Canada. The stiffest sentence was handed to Brandon Gresette, a 33-year-old cook from South Carolina who went by the online name “Samisbae.” He was sentenced to 40 years in prison followed by a lifetime of supervised release. The defendants were also ordered to pay $10,000 to one victim and $98,715 to another victim. “Today’s sentencings involve another example of a disturbing and reprehensible new trend: the ‘crowdsourcing’ of child exploitation,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski. The case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide program launched in 2006 to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse.

from https://thecrimereport.org

U.S. To Seek Expansion of Student Rights in Sex Cases

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is preparing new policies on campus sexual misconduct that would expand the rights of students accused of assault, harassment or rape, reduce liability for higher education institutions and encourage schools to provide more support for victims.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is preparing new policies on campus sexual misconduct that would expand the rights of students accused of assault, harassment or rape, reduce liability for higher education institutions and encourage schools to provide more support for victims, the New York Times reports. The proposed rules narrow the definition of sexual harassment, holding schools accountable only for formal complaints filed through proper authorities and for conduct on campus. They would establish a higher legal standard to determine whether schools improperly addressed complaints. The new rules  come as major institutions such as Ohio State University, the University of Southern California and Michigan State University deal with explosive charges that faculty or staff members have perpetrated serious sexual misconduct.

Higher education administrators have maintained that sexual misconduct rules pressed by the Obama administration unnecessarily burdened them with bureaucratic mandates that had little to do with assault or harassment. Men’s rights groups have said the accused have had little recourse. Unlike the Obama administration’s guidance documents, the Trump administration’s rules will have the force of law and can go into force without an act of Congress, after a public comment period. Last fall, DeVos rescinded a 2011 letter prepared by the Obama administration that outlined the responsibilities of schools and colleges that receive federal funding to address episodes of sexual misconduct. Victims rights groups praised the Obama-era guidelines for aggressively holding schools accountable for complaints of sexual harassment, assault and rape that they said had often been played down or ignored. Critics contended that too often they trampled due-process rights for accused students. The new proposal would preserve much of the law that protects against sex discrimination, called Title IX.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Backpage Founders: We’re Victims of Attack on Free Speech

Backpage.com founders James Larkin and Michael Lacey claim the charges against them for operating an adult-sex site were politically motivated. “This is the biggest speech battle in America right now,” said Lacey in an interview with Reason.

Backpage.com founders James Larkin and Michael Lacey claim they are the victims of politicians and describe the case against them for operating their site, which has been called a market for illicit prostitution, as an attack on free speech.

They singled out Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his wife Cindy as the leaders of a vendetta against them.

“Part of the reason this has really worked is because you have Cindy and John McCain involved in this,” Larkin said in a lengthy interview with Reason.“And they see an opportunity to even a score. We think there’s no question that this is partly their doing.”

A federal grand jury in Arizona indicted Lacey, 69, and Larkin, 68, along with five others,  on charges including facilitating prostitution and money laundering in April. Both men are confined by court order to Maricopa, AZ., and are being monitored by electronic homing devices. A trial is scheduled in 2020.

In the interview, Larkin insisted: “We’ve never, ever broken the law. Never have, never wanted to. This isn’t really—I know this is probably heresy—this isn’t about sex work to me. This is about speech.”

“This is the biggest (free) speech battle in America right now,” added Lacey. “The First Amendment isn’t about protecting the rights of the McLaughlin Group to speak their mind on television.

“This is specifically what the fuck it’s about. Unpopular speech. Dangerous speech. Speech that threatens the norm. Not only do we have that right, our readers have that right. The [Backpage] posters have that right.

“We spent 40 years doing journalism, groundbreaking journalism, and they want to take all that away,” he said, claiming it was because “they don’t like who exercised their constitutional rights to use our advertising platform. And that has no goddamn bearing. The law doesn’t say, ‘You get to pick and choose who exercises their constitutional rights by whether or not you like their lifestyle.’ It’s just incredible.”

Thee two men talked to Reason about their history as free press warriors who began taking swings at politicians in the early 1970s, starting with their anti-war newspaper Phoenix New Times.

The paper refused to endorse candidates, and “didn’t line up with the establishments in any city that we were involved in,” Larkin told Reason. “And that’s come back to haunt us.”

The New Times took “ample swipes” at Sheriff Joe Arpaio for violating the constitutional rights of prisoners, as well as then-Arizona States Attorney Janet Nepolitano, who scuttled a federal lawsuit against Arpaio for excessive brutality and ignoring inmate medical needs, reports Reason. The New Times also published stories about the McCains’ involvement with white-collar fraudster Charles Keating, outed Cindy as an opioid addict, and reported on her father’s connections to mobsters..

Larkin and Lacey are now confined by ankle bracelet to Maricopa County, AZ, by court order. The FBI’s seizure of Backpage.com in April followed a years-long battle with political and legal heavyweights, including the National Association of Attorneys General, Senator Kamala Harris, John and Cindy McCain, and immigration hardliner Joe Arpaio.

See also: Why Cracking Down on Sex Sites Won’t Stop Traffickers

In the interview, Larkin described the early legal battles that cemented the pair’s “stubborn approach to bureaucrats telling us ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘we’re not going to allow you to do that.”

In 1971, the New Times faced misdemeanor charges after publishing information on out-of-state abortion services at a time when it was illegal to get an abortion in Arizona. They won a Supreme Court appeal; the decision also found the state’s abortion statutes unconstitutional, reports Reason. The following year, the New Times won a censorship suit against the University of Arizona for restricting the dissemination of the paper.  

“We knew what our rights were to distribute opinion and news,” Larkin told Reason.

When the pair created Backpages.com in 2004, Larkin saw it as a continuation of the kind of classified advertising the company had run since its early days. “We’ve had adult advertising from 1970,” he told Reason.

Backpage cooperated with law enforcement sources to help find missing persons and build cases against dangerous predators. By 2011, staff members were replying to around 100 records subpeonas a month, according to the magazine.

“[Backpage has] been cooperative with anti-trafficking efforts,” Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, a criminologist and victim advocate, told The Crime Report. “They responded to subpoenas and facilitated investigations. There is no empirical evidence or criminological theory to suggest that Backpage facilitated prostitution, much less sex trafficking.”

 

from https://thecrimereport.org

Sex Offender Registration Influenced by Racial Bias, Ohio Study Claims

A study of released Ohio sex offenders found that over 85 percent were wrongly classified as high-risk to their communities, and 15 percent who actually posed a danger were underclassified. The study in the Criminal Justice Policy Review said risk assessments skewed against African-Americans were one reason.

The classification of sex offenders based on the risks they pose to the community following their release from prison is subject to racial bias, according to a study published in the Criminal Justice Policy Review.

African-American sex offenders were found to be two-and a half times likelier to be inaccurately designated as high-risk than their Caucasian counterparts by a state-sponsored risk-assessment instrument, said the study, which was based on a sample of 673 sex offenders in the state of Ohio who were convicted of a sex crime and released between 2009 and 2011.

Risk assessments that were overly weighted towards prior criminal records led to the skewed assessments, argued the authors, Bobbie Ticknor of Valdosta State University, and Jessica J. Warner of Miami University Regionals.

“Approximately 85 percent of the individuals classified in the highest tier, who theoretically posed the greatest danger, did not have a conviction for a new sex offense after the five-year follow up period,” the study found, adding that 15 percent of “Tier 1” offenders were under-classified, meaning their threat-level was underestimated.

The sample was limited to offenders who had received a classification under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) system established by the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.

The law established guidelines aimed at protecing communities from convicted sex offenders who might pose continued threats to their community following release. SORNA is an offense-based classification system where offenders are assigned to one of three tiers according to “dangerousness.” Tier designation is determined by prior offenses and the severity of the charge and conviction.

The classification is used to determine the level of supervision convicted sex offenders will be subject to following release, ranging from regular monitoring by local law enforcement to restrictions on where they can live. Some version of these federally mandated laws now exist in every state.

The authors said their study results should “generate several concerns from policymakers.”

“There is a small group of sex offenders who are more dangerous than their tier designation would lead society to believe,” they wrote. “In addition there is a much larger portion of therse individuals who may not be as dangerous as previously thought.”

The reason why racial bias may influence the accuracy of SORNA designations lies in the fact that SORNA relies heavily on the criminal history of an individual, said the authors.

The study cites prior research which produced evidence that “black defendants are less likely to accept a plea deal due to mistrust in the system…”

Going to trial increases the chances of being found guilty of more severe charges and receiving lengthier sentences, especially for minority defendants, according to the authors.

Over-classification may lead to measures, such as residency restrictions, which could induce a chain-reaction of negative outcomes increasing the chances of recidivism. A potential solution, suggest the authors, would be a state by state re-evaluation of the law, and a move to incorporate considerations of background information, criminogenic needs, and protective factors into risk-assessment instruments.

See also: How Pseudoscience Turns Sex Offenders into Permanent Outlaws

And: Did California Authorities Suppress Research on Sexually Violent Predators?

The full  Ohio study can be found here:

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern John Ramsey. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Priest Sex Abuse Scandal Unlikely to Change PA Laws

The Republican-controlled legislature has resisted calls to lift the statute of limitations, despite several attempts by lawmakers. The Roman Catholic Church has lobbied fiercely against changing the law or opening a window for lawsuits.

The searing Pennsylvania grand jury report that accuses Roman Catholic Church leaders of covering up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests has prompted growing calls for justice, but a web of legal barriers stands in the way of prosecuting most cases. Efforts to ease those barriers have repeatedly run into political opposition and fierce lobbying by the church and other groups. Pennsylvania lags behind many other states in coming to grips with the problem, despite a series of grand jury investigations stretching back 15 years, the New York Times reports.

The grand jury report is unlikely to lead to any new criminal charges or civil lawsuits over the abuse that it catalogs, because the statute of limitations has expired. State law allows victims of abuse as children 12 years to sue after they come of age at 18, meaning they must do so by age 30. Criminal complaints must be filed by the time the victim is 50. Those rules leave the vast majority of abuse survivors, who came forward later in life, with no legal recourse. Only two cases in the report have led to criminal charges. The grand jury called for  eliminating the time limit for criminal complaints completely; setting aside the expired civil statutes of limitations for abuse cases; amending the state’s mandatory reporting law so that repeated failures to comply face harsher penalties; and barring confidentiality agreements that are meant to shield abusers. The Republican-controlled legislature has resisted calls to lift the statute of limitations, despite several attempts by lawmakers. The church has lobbied fiercely against changing the law or opening a window for lawsuits. Most other states have extended or abolished statutes of limitations for criminal prosecution of child sexual abuse felonies. Some states have restored victims’ expired rights to file civil suits.

from https://thecrimereport.org