Domestic Abuse: Puerto Rico’s Women in Crisis

A dedicated network of psychologists, advocates and shelters has emerged to cope with the rise in domestic violence victims since last year’s Hurricane Maria. The challenge is complicated by the slow pace of reconstruction and the lack of government resources.  

Alba, 36, is a skinny woman who looks younger than she is.

Her body is covered with tattoos. In the middle of one breast, a drawing represents, “los golpes de la vida” (the hard knocks of life); another on her ankle ties her to her sister forever; on her arm, another recalls the cancer that killed her father.

On her back are a number of butterflies—symbols of the fragility that marks her life.

When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, it left Alba’s house, located in the countryside surrounding Cayey, a small community on the southeast of the island, severely damaged and without electricity.

But Alba (at her request her full name is withheld to protect her identity) suffered more than house damage as a result of the storm.

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Alba (left), a victim of domestic violence and Luz, her legal intercessor, during an interview at the Hogar Nueva Mujer in Cayey. Photo by Mirko Cecchi

“In the midst of all our desperation,” she recalled. “My partner and I argued even more violently; he left, and I tried to take my life.

“I cut my veins and took some pills.”

She woke up in the hospital. After treatment for her injuries, Alba returned home with her two children, aged 18 and 7, from a previous relationship. There was no trace of her partner until Dec. 22, when six shots, fired in the dark, hit her car parked in the street, and pockmarked the outer wall of the room where the boys slept.

“I knew it was him because the day before, he must have seen my ex-husband come to bring a present to my children, and he must have done so out of jealousy,” she said.

Four days later, Aurora won a protection order from a judge and, on a friend’s suggestion, moved to Hogar Nueva Mujer (New Women’s Place), a women’s shelter in Cayey.

She joined hundreds of other women who have fled abusive spouses or partners since the hurricane, reflecting what women’s advocates on the island have called an “astronomical” increase in domestic violence.

According to John Jay College Prof. Jodie Roure, who works with human rights and women’s organizations in Puerto Rico, the number of 911 calls skyrocketed from 211 in the immediate aftermath of the storm to 889 the following month—with some 1,747 calls received through November, 2017.

In an earlier interview on Criminal Justice Matters, Roure said, “the lack of access to food and electricity has exacerbated stress” in many families hit hardest by the storm, and contributed as well to a number of “murder-suicides” related to domestic conflicts.

The problem has not abated.

Alba is one of 223 victims of domestic violence that Hogar Nueva Mujer assisted between September 2017 and February 2018—36 more than those recorded in the same period between 2016 and 2017. Like some of the other victims of violence, she didn’t use 911 to call for help—relying instead on a friend’s recommendation—which suggests that the number of women fleeing abusive relationships after the hurricane may be even larger.

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Vilmarie Rivera, director of the center for women victims of domestic violence, Hogar Nueva Mujer. Photo by Mirko Cecchi.

Vilmarie Rivera, the director of Nueva Mujer, said the center has increased its security protection as it tries to cope with the rise in demand for its services.

“We had to ensure that no volunteer was actually an attacker, but it was also a good time to allow the victims to approach us, with any excuse,” said Rivera, who noted that some women come just to take advantage of the laundry, to pick up medicines, or obtain food for their families.  In that period the center had the only electricity generator in the area.

Nueva Mujer—which works primarily on the housing problem by supporting victims of violence in finding a home and starting new independent lives—is one of eight shelters for Puerto Rican women active before the hurricane, and one of five that did not have to suspend the activities because of the damages suffered.

It helped find Alba a new house, and put her in touch with entrepreneurship courses that will help her build a new life. One of her goals is to open a small cosmetic business.

“I knew they would help me,” she says. “But I did not imagine so much.”

Rivera, like all gender-related activists on the island, believes that violence against women after the hurricane has increased further, but the actual numbers are still hard to obtain.

Vilma González, director of Coordinadora Paz Para las Mujeres (Peace for Women Coordinating Center), says the most recent data on domestic violence provided by Puerto Rico’s Office of the Women’s Advocate comes from 2016.

“I sent a message requesting the cases divided per month in 2017 but they have not answered,” said Gonzalez.

Rivera says there are other challenges as well.

“There’s no protocol (by the government) to address the danger which women faced,” she said in an interview.

As a result, many women have stayed with abusive partners “because they have not seen an alternative.”

Like Jodie Roure, Rivera blames the increase in domestic violence on economic hardship caused by the storm.

“Women have lost their jobs and men counted on that salary, plus many men were also unemployed,” she said. “Despair brings nervousness, anger, frustration.”

*“The hurricane has demonstrated the total failure of the system and has brought out inequality: Poverty in Puerto Rico has a woman’s face, but there are no public policies for them.”

In Vega Alta, a small town on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, Hogar Ruth (Ruth’s Place) has been active since 1984. Despite the lack of funds and supplies, and the damage caused to the building by the hurricane, it has never stopped providing shelter to the victims and their children.

“Today we have 21 guests, divided into 8 rooms,” explained coordinator Damaris Feliciano in an interview last month.

“During the hurricane we were 42. The women who knocked on our doors were not only victims of violence but pregnant girls or women with newborn babies who did not want to stay in the insecure and unhealthy camps organized by the government in schools or in gyms.”

Hogar Ruth dealt with 182 cases of domestic violence between October and December 2017, almost three times the number of those helped in the same period in the previous year (63).

Katalina (a pseudonym), who arrived at the shelter on Oct. 11, 2017, was one of them.

She moved to the island seven years ago, following a Puerto Rican man she met in her native country, Ecuador, with a newborn in her arms.

“As long as he came to visit me, everything was fine but as soon as we got here, he changed,” Katalina recalled. “He treated me as if I were stupid, as if I was always wrong, and also spoke badly to the child.

“The house where we lived was not a decent place to raise our daughter but I was here alone; I did not know who to ask for help and he kept us like prisoners.”

The hurricane and its aftermath somehow gave Katalina the courage to escape her situation.

“After seven years, I could not stand it anymore, and when Maria came, it was really too much,” she recalled. “One day I accompanied him to his sister’s house, she saw me cry and although we did not get along very well she handed me the number of a judge.”

After hearing Katalina’s story, the judge issued an order of protection—one of the 442 issued throughout Puerto Rico between September 20 and mid-October 2017. She and her child were then escorted by police to her house, where she was then helped to pack up her belongings and move to Hogar Ruth.

Hogar Ruth, as a transitional emergency hotel, shelters women for a maximum of 90 days before moving to their new home. But Katalina’s partner violated the order by going to her daughter’s school, and the shelter considered it safer to postpone their transfer.

Meanwhile, other institutions are using federal grant money to pay for psychological counseling to victims of domestic violence.

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Cynthia Garcia Coll of Albizu University, San Juan. Photo by Mirko Cecchi.

Cynthia Garcia Coll, a psychologist and professor of human development at Albizu University in San Juan, received $400,000 from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) program to provide psychological and legal assistance to domestic violence victims at the university’s clinic.

The university, which describes itself as the “first professional school of psychology in North America and the Caribbean,” set up a clinic to house the program in January, 2018, staffed by 16 advanced psychology doctoral students, four supervisors, two lawyers, and two legal intercessors who prepare victims of domestic violence for court testimony.

“After the hurricane, our project has taken on an even more important meaning,” said Coll.

During its first three months of operation, the clinic has worked with 14 women affected by the hurricane.

“We call them victims of victimization facts,” said Coll. “Domestic violence is often just one of the problems to be treated, and just one of the factors that has led people to find themselves in their specific situation.

“If [these] factors are not addressed, the risk of recurrence is very high: women often go from one violent relationship to another, and the epilogue can be tragic.”

In the absence of good data, one woman has begun to chronicle those tragedies on her own.

Carmen Castello

Carmen Castellò operates her Facebook site on murdered or disappeared Puerto Rican women out of her apartment.

Carmen Castelló Ortiz, a former social worker, devotes a good part of her day to registering cases of missing women or victims of femicide.

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A gallery of the women who have disappeared in Puerto Rico since the hurricane, prepared by Carmen Castellò, administrator of the facebook page, Seguimiento De Casos. Photo by Mirko Cecchi

The computer in her small apartment in one of the island’s towns holds dozens of folders where she archives cases she finds in newspapers. The information includes photos of the victims, data reported by the police, and a brief summary of events which she then publishes on her Facebook page “Seguimiento De Casos (Tracing of Cases).”

In the aftermath of the hurricane, Ortiz has recorded a number of heart-rending stories, such as a 78-year-old woman who was murdered.

“For me, they are like family,” Ortiz said, as she scrolled through the faces of the women whose tracks have been lost. “I do not know if I could survive if one of my loved ones disappeared.”

But information and details are still hard to get. The island’s Public Security Department released in mid-October a list with 33 other missing women.

Gonzalez of Coordinadora de Paz Para Mujer fears that behind these numbers there may be human trafficking.  But  Puerto Rico’s overworked police force—which experienced a walkout earlier this year over complaints of missing overtime pay—has not been able to investigate further.

That has left Carmen as the missing women’s sole voice.

Claudia Bellante

Claudia Bellante

“I want to keep the attention, encourage the police to work more and better, so these women are not forgotten,” she says.

But the work of Puerto Rico’s advocates for women may only have just begun. The next hurricane season in the Caribbean begins in less than two months.

Claudia Bellante is an Italian freelance journalist who writes on Latin America. She has published articles in Internazionale, El País, The Caravan, and Rhythms Monthly. Photos by Mirko Cecchi at www.mirkocecchi.com.  Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Backpage.com CEO Ferrer Admits Guilt in Plea Deal

Carl Ferrer, CEO and co-founder of the classified ad website Backpage.com, cut a plea deal with state and federal prosecutors, admitting he knew that the site had become a massive online marketplace for prostitution. He faces up to five years in prison.

Carl Ferrer, CEO and co-founder of the classified ad website Backpage.com, cut a plea deal with state and federal prosecutors, admitting that he knew that the site had become a massive online marketplace for prostitution, reports Politico. Ferrer, 57, agreed to plead guilty to charges in state courts in Texas and California and federal charges in Arizona in a bid to resolve an array of criminal investigations he was facing over his role in the site. The deal appears to limit Ferrer’s potential prison time to no more than five years.

“I have long been aware that the vast majority of these advertisements are, in fact, advertisements for prostitution services (which are not protected by the First Amendment and which are illegal in 49 states and much of Nevada),” Ferrer acknowledged. Ferrer and other Backpage officials hadinsisted they were policing the website aggressively to remove such advertising. Ferrer admitted in the plea deal that those efforts were just window dressing. “I worked with my co-conspirators to create ‘moderation’ processes through which Backpage would remove terms and pictures that were particularly indicative of prostitution and then publish a revised version of the ad,” he said in the plea document. “It was merely intended to create a veneer of deniability for Backpage.” Federal officials have shut down Backpage and obtained a 93-count grand jury indictment charging seven people with money laundering and using the internet to facilitate prostitution.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Signs Law Curbing Sex-Trafficking Websites

On the heels of a  federal move to shut down the Backpage website, President Trump signed a bill on Wednesday that gives federal and state prosecutors greater power to pursue websites that host sex-trafficking ads and enables victims and state attorneys general to file lawsuits against those sites.

On the heels of a  federal move to shut down the Backpage website, President Trump signed a bill on Wednesday that gives federal and state prosecutors greater power to pursue websites that host sex-trafficking ads and enables victims and state attorneys general to file lawsuits against those sites, the Washington Post reports.

Addressing the victims and family members, the president said, “I’m signing this bill in your honor. … You have endured what no person on Earth should ever have to endure … This is a great piece of legislation, and it’s really going to make a difference.”

The impact of the bill, nicknamed “FOSTA” for its title, “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” was already being seen as sites shut down sex-related areas and stopped accepting sex-related advertising.

The signing came after seven executives of Backpage.com were arrested on a 93-count indictment that alleges the website aided prostitution and laundered tens of millions of dollars in profits, and that teenage girls were sold for sex on the site. Some girls were killed. The government shut down Backpage’s classified ad websites around the world, and moved to seize houses and bank accounts.

Civil liberties advocates attacked the bill as too broad, creating liability for websites that had been protected by the Communications Decency Act for content posted by third parties. A number of websites, including Craigslist, began shutting down sections that might be construed as sex-related after the bill passed the Senate last month.

Sex workers and sex worker advocates have been criticizing the bill as depriving them of a safe place to screen customers, as well as removing a tool for law enforcement to track pimps, locate missing children and build criminal cases. Other civil rights groups, including the ACLU, have opposed the bill on the grounds that it will hinder free speech.

See also: With Backpage Closed, Where Will the Sex Slave Trade Go?

from https://thecrimereport.org

Law Curbing Sex-Trafficking Websites Signed by Trump

Websites already have shut down sex-related areas and stopped accepting sex-related advertising in anticipation of “FOSTA,” short for the federal “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.”

President Trump signed a bill on Wednesday that gives federal and state prosecutors greater power to pursue websites that host sex-trafficking ads and enables victims and state attorneys general to file lawsuits against those sites, the Washington Post reports. Addressing the victims and family members, the president said, “I’m signing this bill in your honor. … You have endured what no person on Earth should ever have to endure … This is a great piece of legislation, and it’s really going to make a difference.”

The impact of the bill, nicknamed “FOSTA” for its title, “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” was already being seen as sites shut down sex-related areas and stopped accepting sex-related advertising. The signing came after seven executives of Backpage.com were arrested on a 93-count indictment that alleges the website aided prostitution and laundered tens of millions of dollars in profits, and that teenage girls were sold for sex on the site. Some girls were killed. The government shut down Backpage’s classified ad websites around the world, and moved to seize houses and bank accounts. Civil liberties advocates attacked the bill as too broad, creating liability for websites that had been protected by the Communications Decency Act for content posted by third parties. A number of websites, including Craigslist, began shutting down sections that might be construed as sex-related after the bill passed the Senate last month. Sex workers and sex worker advocates have been criticizing the bill as depriving them of a safe place to screen customers, as well as removing a tool for law enforcement to track pimps, locate missing children and build criminal cases. Other civil rights groups, including the ACLU, have opposed the bill on the grounds that it will hinder free speech.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Cosby $3.4M Settlement Plays a Big Role in Retrial

Prosecutor Kevin Steele suggested that the size of the 80-year-old entertainer’s payment to Andrea Constand indicated Cosby had something to hide after years of attacking other women in strikingly similar ways. A topless demonstrator disrupted the trial.

Bill Cosby paid Andrea Constand nearly $3.4 million to settle her 2005 lawsuit, a payment a prosecutor said was meant to buy her silence after the entertainer sexually assaulted her at his Pennsylvania home, reports Philly.com. That sum, hidden for more than a decade behind a confidentiality agreement, was revealed by Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele in his opening statement to jurors at Cosby’s retrial. Its disclosure came near the end of a day that was marked by unexpected disruptions, first by a topless demonstrator who charged the 80-year-old entertainer outside the courthouse, then by an unsuccessful effort by the defense to oust a juror from the case.

It was only the first sign that Cosby’s second sexual assault trial was shaping up to be far different than the first, which ended in a hung jury and mistrial. At June’s trial, both sides avoided any mention of the lawsuit, which Constand filed after prosecutors in 2005 declined to pursue a case against Cosby based on her allegations that he had drugged and assaulted her. This time, however, Steele and Cosby’s defense team see Constand’s legal action – and the amount she received to settle it – as central to their case. Steele suggested that the size of the payment indicated Cosby had something to hide after years of attacking other women in strikingly similar ways. “When this happened with Andrea Constand, there was no mistake that there was no consent,” he told jurors. “When someone is drugged, they don’t have the ability to consent.” Cosby’s defense lawyer, Tom Mesereau, has characterized Constant, the former Temple University women’s basketball manager, in pretrial arguments as a gold-digging opportunist who fabricated her claims against Cosby in an attempt to win a big payday in court.

from https://thecrimereport.org

With Backpage.com Closed, Where Will the Sex Slave Trade Go?

Human trafficking expert Kimberley Mehlman-Orozco argues the commercial sex trade will move to dark corners of the web, making it harder for authorities to catch traffickers and rescue victims.

After the recent closing of Backpage.com, a hub for the commercial sex slave trade, trafficking victims could be in greater danger than before, according to a trafficking expert.

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Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco

“[Backpage has] been cooperative with anti-trafficking efforts. 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” Kimberley Mehlman-Orozco, an expert in the field, told The Crime Report.

“While the internet as a whole has made the sale of sex easier, Backpage didn’t facilitate anything any more than any other website or social media platforms.”

Mehlman-Orozco, author of  “Hidden in Plain Sight: America’s Slaves of the New Millennium,” currently serves as a human trafficking witness for criminal cases.

Last Friday, Backpage was seized by the U.S. government and shut down.

Visitors to the site are now greeted with a notice announcing the seizure, saying it was a joint action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the International Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, reports The Cut

The FBI has also raided the Sedona, Arizona, home of the site’s founder, Michael Lacey.

Lacey, 69, of Sedona, Ariz., who co-founded the online classified advertising site Backpage, was charged as part a 93-count indictment that remained sealed late Friday, according to Lacey’s lawyer, Larry Kazan.

Authorities had spent months probing whether the website served as a willing participant in the online sale of sex, including with underage girls.

According to Mehlman-Orozco, this was a mistake. Expert Mehlman-Orozco is a fierce advocate for using Backpage as a way to catch human traffickers.

She noted police engaged in concentrated surveillance of the site, like they would police a crime hotspot on the street. Backpage administrators were cooperative with these investigations, which further facilitated rescues and arrests.

This seizure and raid comes on the heels of the passage of the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). The bills, both ostensibly meant to protect sex-trafficking victims, have been widely criticized by sex workers who believe they’ll threaten their ability to work safely.

But without the popular website to direct law enforcement straight to the ads of young girls being trafficked, where will the sex slave trade go?

To the dark web, Mehlman-Orozco argued.

Now the sex slave trade, an already clandestine crime, will move to even more remote corners of the internet and social media, making it more difficult for authorities to find and prosecute traffickers.

Consequently, it will be even more difficult to rescue victims of sex trafficking.

While Mehlman-Orozco believes human trafficking will remain on the internet, it will be displaced to websites that are password protected and accessed through peer to peer referral.

And unlike Backpage, administrators will not comply with authorities, she said.

See also: Hunting the Internet’s Sex Predators

Megan Hadley is a reporter for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Feds Close Backpage.com in Trafficking Probe

Federal agencies seized the website Backpage.com in an investigation of human trafficking. A sealed indictment reportedly charged the classified advertising website in the online sale of sex.

Michael Lacey, a founder of the New Times tabloid, has been charged in Phoenix in the apparent culmination of a federal human-trafficking investigation, the Arizona Republic reports. Authorities had been probing whether Backpage, the classified advertising website he co-founded, served as a willing participant in the online sale of sex, including with underage girls. On Friday, users posting screenshots on social media of what appeared to be a federal notice of the seizure of Backpage. “Backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized,” the headline of the notice read.

The notice said the seizure was “part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, with analytical assistance from the Joint Regional Intelligence Center.” Backpage had shut down its adult section in January 2017, the same day Lacey and other Backpage executives testified at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing. The men refused to answer questions at that hearing The types of ads that had appeared in the adult section of Backpage — with their racy photos — migrated to the singles section. In recent weeks, in response to a federal law that would have held websites accountable for knowingly facilitating human trafficking, the ads were restricted to a phone number, photos and links to other websites. Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain and an outspoken opponent of human trafficking, said, “They’ve confiscated everything and shut the website down.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

California’s DNA Ruling Helps Fight Crime, Victims Say

Privacy advocates say California’s Supreme Court justices put citizens’ most personal info at risk when they rejected an appeal Monday to strike down a law requiring all arrested individuals to provide DNA samples. Supporters of the ruling say concerns about the law, similar to statutes now in effect in 30 states, are overblown.

Ashley Spence was 19 when she was brutally raped, and almost killed, by an attacker who broke into her apartment at Arizona State University.

There was a pillow over her face the entire time, and afterwards the perpetrator got away, free to commit more heinous crimes.

The case remained unsolved for seven years until one day, the same man was charged with resisting arrest while breaking into another woman’s apartment. He was taken into the police station, and the inside of his cheek was swabbed for DNA. It matched the DNA found in Ashley’s rape kit.

Arizona is one of 30 states and the federal government that authorize the analysis of DNA samples collected from individuals arrested or charged, but not convicted, for certain crimes, reports the The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Privacy advocates say the practice represents a violation of constitutionally protected rights and is part of an escalating trend in business and government to gather personal information. But one of the first major legal tests of the law failed this week in California.

California’s Proposition 69, passed in November 2004, required anyone arrested for a felony–even if they were not charged or convicted–to provide a sample of their DNA, for storage in CODIS, a database that collects federal, local and state forensics.

On Monday, the California Supreme Court, in a narrow 4-3 ruling, rejected an appeal to declare the law unconstitutional.

Spence was relieved. As far as she was concerned, Proposition 69 was how they tracked down the man who brutally assaulted her.

“You can have all the evidence there in the rape kit, but if you don’t have the arrestee’s DNA, you don’t have a match,” she told The Crime Report.

Spence noted that in some states with DNA requirements, a sample is only taken when someone is arrested for a violent crime.

The problem with that, she said, is you don’t know if the alleged perpetrator [of a less violent offense] will go on to commit more serious crimes.

 “If that hadn’t happened to the man who assaulted me, many more women could’ve been raped,” she said.

Source: NCSL

But opponents argue that the DNA-testing mandates are not just personally invasive; they disproportionately affect people of color who are more statistically likely to be hauled in by police on suspicion of committing a crime—even if they are eventually released.

Immigrant advocates, lawyers and civil rights groups say the portable technology used for DNA testing makes authorities more likely to use it on individuals who are already under police surveillance. A wide range of documented and undocumented immigrants have had their personal data entered into the FBI’s massively expanding identification database, according to The New Republic.

That was the stance Justice Goodwin Liu took this week on the Proposition 69 ruling.

“The fact that felony arrests of African Americans disproportionately result in no charges or dropped charges means that African Americans are disproportionately represented among the thousands of DNA profiles that the state has no legal basis for retaining,”Justice Liu stated. 

The more liberal justices in the ruling wanted to strike down the DNA program they said affects thousands of innocent people each year, mainly African Americans.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in California declined to comment.

Mary Ross, president of Californians for Consumer Privacy, said the DNA law should worry anyone concerned about the growing evidence that personal data was no longer private.

Citing the recent disclosures that the personal information of millions of Facebook users was scraped by companies seeking to use it for political campaigns, she said the DNA case was one more example of the need to be transparent about the information being collected and what it was used for.

“There’s a whole industry of businesses who collect information and compile [it] in electronic documents and sell it,” she said in an interview. “You can buy lists of rape victims, stuff that should never be for sale, but it’s all advertised.”

Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar appeared to share this perspective in his dissent from the ruling. He wrote that the majority decision overlooked the importance of “heightened privacy protections” in California’s constitution.

“The DNA Act unlawfully invades people’s reasonable expectation of privacy in their personal genetic information,” he said.

Justice Cuéllar believed the “reasonable” way to go about collecting information that may assist criminal investigations, while protecting the privacy of individuals, is to use less-intrusive means. He used the example of taking fingerprints which gives only a few data points to identify a perpetrator, whereas DNA provides a whole raft of additional and extraneous information, particularly about an individual’s health.

Supporters of the law say such fears are overblown.

The DNA entered into the system being used today is a numerical ID, with only 20 markers of DNA—not enough to reveal one’s race, eye color, hair color or other defining personal characteristics, said Jayann Sepich, founder of DNA saves.

“I wish people took the time to understand and educate themselves on DNA testing,” observed rape victim Ashley Spence.

“If they did, I believe they would feel differently.”

Not only can DNA testing be used to prevent further crimes, but it can help exonerate the innocent, Spence argued.

Jayann Sepich, who lost her daughter Katie to a brutal rape and murder in 2003, makes a similar point. People who are innocent won’t go to prison just because their DNA was taken at the time of a felony arrest, she said in an interview.

But having their DNA on file might prevent criminals from escaping detection long after they committed horrible crimes.

Sepich’s daughter Katie was 22 when she was abducted, raped, killed, set on fire and then dumped in the desert. The man who attacked her had her skin and blood under his fingernails.

But the Sepich family waited three years and three months until they found their daughter’s killer. His DNA had been swabbed too many years after his felony arrest.

“If we had an arrestee law when our daughter was murdered, we would’ve got him in less than 90 days,” Sepich lamented.

John Case, a business lawyer in Los Angeles, said opponents of the DNA law were in effect fighting a losing battle. Consumer privacy is breached every day using websites such as Facebook and Google, he said The Crime Report.

“They’re all putting our privacy at risk,” Case maintained. “Whether that’s being used to target white people, non-white people, people with whatever political viewpoint—those risks exist,” he said.

Supporters of Proposition 69 said DNA offered a crucial way of finding and stopping repeat lawbreakers who posed a danger to society.

“If you’ve committed a crime and you are found guilty, we should be able to get info from you to see if you have committed other crimes, regardless of race” said Betsy Butler, Executive Director at California Women’s Law Center. 

“I don’t know a less invasive way to track criminal behavior,” she contended. “If you haven’t done any crimes you won’t be in the system.”

Megan Hadley is a reporter for The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Cosby Wins Defense Rulings in Sex Assault Retrial

Judge Steven O’Neill will allow testimony by a woman who claims that Cosby’s accuser had talked about trying to frame a celebrity. The defense lost a potential juror who might have agreed with that strategy.

Bill Cosby’s lawyers won two rulings crucial to their strategy of casting the 80-year-old entertainer as the victim of a shakedown scheme involving false accusations of sexual assault, but they could not get the one prospective juror who seemed most willing to consider that idea, the Associated Press reports. The defense wanted a man who said he thought many of the women coming forward in the #MeToo movement were “jumping on the bandwagon,” but prosecutors used a challenge to send him home. They agreed on six other jurors, bringing the two-day total to seven as jury selection. They already have eliminated more than 200 potential jurors.

Judge Steven O’Neill on Tuesday granted the Cosby’ team’s request to call a woman who says accuser Andrea Constand talked about framing a celebrity before she lodged allegations against him in 2005. The judge also ruled that jurors can hear how much Cosby paid Constand in a 2006 civil settlement. Cosby has pleaded not guilty to charges he drugged and molested Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. He says the encounter with the former Temple University women’s basketball administrator was consensual. O’Neill’s ruling allowing Marguerite Jackson to testify was at odds with his decision to block her from the first trial, which ended in a hung jury.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Cosby Prosecutors Want to Use Quaaude Testimony

Prosecutors and lawyers for Bill Cosby sparred Friday over whether jurors at his sexual assault retrial will hear lurid deposition testimony from the comedian about giving quaaludes to a string of women before sex, Jury selection is due to start on Monday. The judge refused to recuse himself.

Prosecutors and lawyers for Bill Cosby sparred Friday over whether jurors at his sexual assault retrial will hear lurid deposition testimony from the comedian about giving quaaludes to a string of women before sex, the Associated Press reports. District Attorney Kevin Steele asked a judge during a pretrial hearing in suburban Philadelphia to let them read the testimony into the record at Cosby’s sex assault retrial, just as it was at the first one that ended in a hung jury last year. Steele said the testimony, along with the testimony of up to five additional accusers, bolsters their plan to portray Cosby as a serial predator. Those women weren’t allowed to testify at the first trial.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday as the 80-year-old Cosby faces charges he drugged and molested former Temple University athletics administrator Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. Cosby’s lawyers say the testimony is irrelevant because there’s no evidence he gave Constand the drug. His lawyers argued prosecutors are trying to use the deposition and expected testimony from the additional accusers to distract jurors from the case at hand. Judge Steven O’Neill presided over Cosby’s first trial, which ended in a hung jury last year. O’Neill refused to recuse himself for this trial, rejecting the defense’s assertions that he could be seen as biased because his wife is a social worker and advocate for assault victims. In arguing for the judge to step aside, Cosby’s lawyers pointed to a $100 donation made in his wife’s name to an organization that gave money to a group planning a protest outside of the retrial.

from https://thecrimereport.org