State Legislators Survive Sexual Misconduct Charges

Twenty-five state lawmakers who have been accused of sexual misconduct are running for re-election or another office this year. Of those, 15 have already advanced to the Nov. 6 general election, the Associated Press reports.

Allegations of sexual misconduct against Kentucky legislators have become so common that the statehouse has seemed more like a frat house: Seven have faced accusations, including four who settled secretly with a female legislative aide. The voters’ response has mostly been to keep them in office, the Associated Press reports. Of the five lawmakers up for re-election this year, three easily made it through their party primaries and will be favored to retain their seats in November. The other two chose not to run. An Associated Press review found that 25 state lawmakers who have been accused of sexual misconduct are running for re-election or another office this year. Of those, 15 have already advanced to the Nov. 6 general election. Seven did not even face a challenger in their primary.

Cassaundra Cooper, who filed a sexual harassment claim against a former Kentucky lawmaker in 2013, wonders why voters would re-elect public officials accused of sexual misconduct, or simply choose to ignore the allegations. After the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the growth of the #MeToo movement, any assumption that accused office holders would be political pariahs is not borne out on the state level. By comparison, virtually every member of Congress accused of sexual harassment has resigned or opted against running for re-election. Political scientist Kelly Dittmar of Rutgers University said the political success of accused state lawmakers suggests that voters are unsure how to respond. Does a private failing disqualify someone from serving in public office? “We don’t have an answer for that,” she said. That is true even in states where voters historically support female politicians and traditionally liberal issues. In California, of the six state lawmakers who faced misconduct allegations and ran for re-election or another office, four advanced to the general election.


Why Can’t We Redeem the Sex Offender?

Restrictions on sex offenders, regardless of the details of their cases, have created a huge population of people whose potential contributions to society have been foreclosed. It’s time to give them the same chance as other returning citizens for full reintegration when they pose no further threat, says a former sentencing mitigation researcher.

Before soliciting a teenage girl who turned out to be an undercover cop on the internet, Joshua Hoe was director of the University of Michigan’s debate team.

Although he now runs a podcast that features staffers from prestigious criminal justice reform organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and #Cut50, he still cannot get a salaried day job in the field because of his conviction for a sex crime.

Nick Dubin, who has a doctorate in psychology, was a nationally renowned speaker on the autism rights circuit. That changed forever in 2010, when he was prosecuted for viewing inappropriate images of young adolescents on the internet. He did not deliver a keynote speech to an audience again until 2018, and he only did so to use his story as a cautionary tale for the parents of autistic kids.

There are almost one million Americans on sex offender registries. These include individuals who committed grave offenses, but also people like Hoe and Durbin who were convicted for comparatively minor sex crimes.

A number of those on the registry were in fact convicted for offenses committed when they were children themselves.

But the stigma applied to the sex offender, which treats him or her the same as the worst rapist and child abuser imaginable, regardless of the details of the case, has created a huge population of people with skills whose potential contributions to society have been foreclosed.

Civil liberties advocates have begun to acknowledge the need for a more humane approach to individuals who have been involved with the justice system and have paid the price with time served.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), for example, has pushed to end employment discrimination against those with criminal records. But only recently has the organization started to hire people who had previously committed serious violent acts.

Bill Cobb, the deputy director of ACLU National’s Smart Justice Initiative has a record that includes kidnapping and robbery. Esmie Tseng stabbed her own mother to death at 16 years old and recently started working at ACLU of Kansas. And Bruce Reilly, who went to law school with a second-degree murder conviction, was able to get internships and fellowships at the Brennan Center and the Vera Institute of Justice, though he ended up at a less high-profile organization for full-time work.

There is no sex offender equivalent of these redemption stories.

The closest example is Guy Hamilton-Smith, who is on the sex-offender registry for looking at pictures of naked underage teens on the internet. Hamilton-Smith graduated toward the top of his  law school class at University of Kentucky, and was categorically rejected by the Kentucky Bar due to his registry status.

But he was able to land a legal fellow position at Mitchell Hamline School of Law’s Sex Offense Litigation and Policy Research Center.

Nevertheless, it appears that to this day, there is not one ACLU branch that employs a sex offender registrant as a staff member.

This disparity underlines a serious gap in the American victims’ rights movement.

The New Yorker recently ran a piece about that movement, describing how it fused the conservative “tough on crime” mentality of the 1980s and 1990s with trauma-centered feminism.

This has been translated too often into a perspective that allowing someone who sexually wronged someone else move on and contribute to society in a meaningful fashion is equivalent to “tell[ing] all survivors that they don’t matter.”

Such black-and-white thinking, which is frequently encouraged by law enforcement officials, leaves out a multitude of victim experiences, offenses, and cultural attitudes.

After David Bowie’s death, the internet went into a frenzy over a statutory rape he had committed in his early-to-mid 20s against a 15-year-old girl who many decades later still considers the encounter consensual.

To legitimize the controversy for purposes of debate, a writer at Mic noted that “[t]he age of consent in California was (and still is) 18 years of age.” But that also puts California at odds with the vast majority of the nation, which sets the age at 16 or 17, as well as the world, where the age averages between 15 and 16.

Some developed nations go even lower: Germany and Italy set the age at 14, and until 2013, Spain set it at 13. The trend in recent years is to increase the age, but Malta just decreased the age from 18 to 16.

The imbalance produces Kafka-esque cases like Edward Marrero, who admitted in court, while testifying in defense of a friend, that he took sexual photos of his 17-year-old girlfriend when he was only 20.

As a result of that admission, Marrero now faces 15-to-30 years in federal prison for photos of a relationship that would be legal nearly everywhere.

Is a close-in-age relationship between a young adult and a teenager morally worse than murder, kidnapping, or robbery? The dearth of otherwise-qualified sex offenders in criminal justice reform careers shows how far we have tilted the scales from reality.

Criminal justice reform organizations should be able to ask these questions and answer them realistically, without putting too much credence in the byzantine and cruel state of American sex laws.

After all, we know better than anyone that the law is not always what is right. Let’s hire sex offenders when we believe in them.

Rory Fleming, founder of Foglight Strategies, worked as a sentencing mitigation researcher on felony sex offense cases, where he employed a sex registrant. He is also a friend of Guy Hamilton-Smith, mentioned above, and facilitated Smith’s writing for the Appeal, a publication of the Fair Punishment Project, at Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute and its Criminal Justice Institute. Fleming blogs at The Digest and tweets from @RoryFleming8A.


Stormy Daniels Charges Are Quickly Dropped

Columbus, Ohio, Police Chief Kimberley Jacobs says the porn star was erroneously arrested at a strip club. The city attorney says the law requires that an offender makes “regular appearances” at a business.

Authorities dropped charges against adult film star Stormy Daniels Thursday after she was taken into custody during a performance at a strip club in Ohio, which her lawyer called a “politically motivated” setup, ABC News reports. Daniels, who made headlines earlier this year over her claims of an alleged affair with President Trump, was arrested Wednesday night at the Sirens Gentlemen’s Club after she allegedly allowed “a customer to touch her while on stage,” said her attorney, Michael Avenatti. Daniels was charged with three violations of illegal sexual activity in a sexually oriented business.

Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, had allegedly touched some of the patrons’ breasts and allowed them to touch her. Columbus police arrested Daniels, 39, along with two other dancers at the club. Columbus Police Chief Kimberley Jacobs said in making the arrest, “one element of the law was missed in error.” City Attorney Zach Klein explained that, “these crimes were not committed, based on the fact that [Daniels] has not made regular appearances at this establishment as required under the law.”


Stormy Daniels Arrested for Touching OH Strip Club Patrons

The porn actress was accused of violating an Ohio law that prohibits the touching of a nude or semi-nude dancer. Her attorney, Michael Avenatti, said, “This was a complete set up.” The law apparently never has been cited in Columbus’ Franklin County.

Porn actress Stormy Daniels was arrested in Columbus during her performance Wednesday night at a strip club, the Columbus Dispatch reports. While Daniels was performing at a club called Sirens, she touched several patrons and police officers, an apparent violation of Ohio’s Community Defense Act, which prohibits patrons from touching a nude or semi-nude dancer or their clothing. Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti, tweeted, “She was arrested for allegedly allowing a customer to touch her while on stage in a non sexual manner! Are you kidding me? They are devoting law enforcement resources to sting operations for this? There has to be higher priorities!!!”

At least four Columbus police officers attended Daniels’ performance. They said Daniels touched three of the officers — both men and women — during her performance. Nearly all of the club’s customers approached the stage and started throwing dollars bills at the performer, a court affidavit said. Daniels then forced the faces of several customers into her chest and smacked the sides of their heads with her breasts. She touched the breasts of several female customers. Daniels was taken to the Franklin County Jail early Thursday, where she was charged with three misdemeanor counts of a sexually-oriented-business employee touching a patron. Daniels has canceled her scheduled Thursday night performance at Sirens.  “This was a complete set up,” Avenatti told The Associated Press. Daniels’ arrest may be the first time the 2007 law has ever been applied in Franklin County. Daniels is suing President Trump over a nondisclosure agreement.


Indiana AG Refuses to Quit Over Groping Charges

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill defiantly rejected calls to resign, saying his name has been “dragged through the gutter” after allegations that he inappropriately touched a lawmaker and several female legislative staffers at a party.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill has defiantly rejected calls to resign, saying his name has been “dragged through the gutter” after allegations that he inappropriately touched a lawmaker and several female legislative staffers at a party, reports the Associated Press. The Republican said in a Monday news conference where he did not take questions that he has been unfairly treated by lawmakers and the media, and stands “falsely and publicly accused of abhorrent behavior.” Hill said, “Apparently in this climate the standard is guilty and ‘who cares if you’re innocent?’ A week ago today, I had a name. And I want my name back.”

The claims against Hill were made public after an internal legislative memo detailing the allegations was leaked last week. In it, a state lawmaker and three legislative staffers said Hill drunkenly groped them during a March party. Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon and Gabrielle McLemore, the Indiana Senate Democrats’ communications director, came forward Friday saying they were among the victims. Reardon said after the news conference that Hill had “lied about his actions to the very citizens he serves.” Rep. Ryan Dvorak said,”The attorney general calls a press conference to cry about not being able to tell his side of the story, then immediately refuses to tell his side of the story.” Democrats were the first to call for him to step down. They were joined on Thursday by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders, who said they believe the women.


Rep. Jordan Under Scrutiny Over Sex Abuse Claims

Two ethics experts are asking the Office of Congressional Ethics to check claims that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a potential House Speaker, must have known among sexual abuse in the Ohio State University athletics department in the 1980s and 1990s.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is under intense scrutiny over claims he knew about alleged sexual abuse three decades ago at Ohio State University. Jordan’s Fourth of July recess was consumed by controversy, as former Ohio State wrestlers claimed one by one that he must have known about inappropriate behavior allegedly taking place in the athletic department between 1987 and 1995 when he worked as an assistant coach, the Washington Post reports. Jordan says he has no knowledge of any misconduct or abuse. Jordan is known as an aggressive, no-holds-barred leader among conservatives in the House, qualities he cultivated as a two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion in the mid-1980s.

An ally of President Trump and founding member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, he is many conservative groups’ pick to replace Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) if the GOP keeps the House in November. It is unclear how the allegations could affect a potential bid for speaker by Jordan. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), suggested the allegations are designed to hurt Jordan, a leading critic of special counsel Robert  Mueller’s Russia investigation, as he prepares to grill FBI agent Peter Strzok in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday. Two ethics experts are asking an independent congressional watchdog to look at Jordan’s case. Norm Eisen, President Obama’s ethics czar, and Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, are asking the Office of Congressional Ethics on Monday to conduct a preliminary inquiry into whether Jordan’s denials are false. OCE findings are sometimes referred to the House Ethics Committee.


Weinstein Charged In Third Sexual Assault

One of the new charges, predatory sexual assault, carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. The updated indictment accuses Weinstein of using force to compel a woman to allow him perform oral sex on her in July 2006.

Movie producer Harvey Weinstein, already accused by prosecutors of sexually assaulting two women in New York City, has been indicted on additional charges that he forced a third woman to have sex with him. One of the new charges, predatory sexual assault, carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, the New York Times reports. Once a powerful figure in Hollywood who could make or break careers, Weinstein, 66, was arrested in May on charges that he sexually assaulted two women, one in 2013 and one in 2004. He pleaded not guilty, and has said the encounters were consensual. A judge released him on $1 million bail as he awaits trial.

The updated indictment released on Monday accuses Weinstein of using force to compel a woman to allow him perform oral sex on her in July 2006. The woman was not identified in court papers. The additional charges are two counts of predatory sexual assault, and one count of criminal sexual act. “This indictment is the result of the extraordinary courage exhibited by the survivors who have come forward,” said Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. More than 80 women, including the actresses Rose McGowan and Annabella Sciorra, have accused Weinstein in the last nine months of sexually harassing or assaulting them, often in hotel rooms or his offices, usually after luring them with a promise of a business meeting about films. Still, prosecutors have faced obstacles finding victims whose allegations were within the statute of limitations and who were also willing to testify in a highly publicized trial. Prosecutors declined to give details about the encounter that was the basis for the new charges. The indictment said Weinstein “engaged in oral sexual conduct by forcible compulsion” on July 10, 2006.


Sex Traffickers Force Prisoners Into Prostitution

Traffickers are using government websites to obtain personal information, including mugshots, release dates and charge sheets to identify potential victims while they are still behind bars, The Guardian reports.

Women in U.S. prisons are being recruited by sex traffickers who force them into prostitution on their release, The Guardian reports. Traffickers are using government websites to obtain personal information, including mugshots, release dates and charge sheets to identify potential victims while they are still behind bars. Pimps use inmates in prisons and jails to befriend incarcerated women who, on their release, are trafficked into the $9.5 billion commercial sex industry. The Guardian found cases of the bail bond system being used in sex trafficking operations in at least five states. Pimps and sex buyers are locating incarcerated women awaiting a court date by using personal data such as mugshots and bail bonds posted online, or through corrupt bondsmen.

Traffickers bail women out of detention. Once released, the women are told they must work as prostitutes or have their bond rescinded and be sent back to jail. The Guardian found cases of the bail bond system being used by pimps and sex buyers in Florida, Texas, Ohio, North Carolina and Mississippi. “The pimps would use bail as a way to control us and keep us in debt bondage,” said one trafficking survivor from Tampa. She claimed she was forced to work as a prostitute to pay off her bail debt and locked inside a house and beaten if she didn’t bring home enough money. “Once when I tried to escape, the pimp revoked my bond. He found me, threw me in a car and got me sent back to jail,” she said. Diane Checchio, a former prosecutor in Orlando, said the bail bond system is routinely exploited by traffickers. Checchio said traffickers are targeting women involved in the criminal justice system across the nation. “I would find it very likely that this is happening in every state that has women’s records online,” she said.


State Department Condemns Institutionalization of Kids

The State Department says its annual report on human trafficking that children who spend time in institutions away from their families suffer long-term emotional damage. The report was prepared before the Trump administration instituted a policy of separating children from their families.

The State Department issued what the Washington Post calls a withering condemnation of the institutionalization of children away from family settings, saying in its annual report on human trafficking that those who spend time in such facilities suffer long-term emotional damage. The report was prepared before the Trump administration instituted a policy of separating children from their families. It says institutions, whether run by governments or private groups, are harmful to many of the 8 million children worldwide who live in such facilities. “Studies have found that both private and government-run residential institutions for children, or places such as orphanages and psychiatric wards that do not offer a family-based setting, cannot replicate the emotional companionship and attention found in family environments that are prerequisites to healthy cognitive development,” the report says.

“The physical and psychological effects of staying in residential institutions, combined with societal isolation and often subpar regulatory oversight by governments, place these children in situations of heightened vulnerability to human trafficking,” it states. The report recommends screening for those who are suspected to be victims of trafficking so they can be referred to care and an investigation can proceed. In the report, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that human trafficking undermines national security, enriches criminals and terrorists, and is an affront to universal values. He said combating it is a priority for the Trump administration. The State Department defines modern-day slavery as coerced sex trafficking, forced labor and debt bondage, and recommends governments form task forces to address the practice. Melysa Sperber of Humanity United, said the administration’s “zero tolerance” and family separation policies have undermined U.S. credibility in critiquing human trafficking, and she called on the White House to fill a vacancy for an ambassador to head the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.


Disgraced Movie Mogul Harvey Weinstein Might Go Free: Here’s Why

The #MeToo era has improved the climate for prosecuting accused sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. But according to experts, the legal hurdles to conviction remain formidable.

At the dawn of the #MeToo era, will changing attitudes towards sexual assault against women be enough to convict former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein?

Over 70 women have accused Weinstein of sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape (allegations he fervently denies).  The deplorable conduct he has been accused of in Hollywood and other places has sparked national outrage and fueled the fire for the #MeToo movement. Women across the country have started to speak out against sexually exploitive and abusive behavior of powerful, wealthy men like Weinstein–and the world is listening.

But, despite his many alleged crimes and the public’s cry for justice, Weinstein could walk away unscathed by the criminal justice system.

Here’s why:

Due to outdated sex crime laws not only in New York (where Weinstein is being charged with sex crimes against two different women) but across the country, the movie mogul could escape a damning prison sentence, experts tell The Crime Report.

In criminal court, prosecutors must prove beyond reasonable doubt that a sex crime did occur, and “that can be very difficult,” said Jeff Herman, known as a “go-to” lawyer for sex crime cases in Hollywood.

Herman acknowledged his doubts about the prosecution because the burden of proof is “very high” in these kinds of “he said-she said cases.”

Editors note: Herman is currently representing Dominique Huett and Kadian Noble, two of Weinstein’s accusers, in civil court.

Prosecutors will also have to prove the encounter was non-consensual, raising issues about the definition of consent under state law.

Proving Forcible Compulsion is Hard

In New York, rape is defined as “forcible compulsion” — compelling the victim through the use of physical force or the threat of immediate death, physical injury or kidnapping.

Many of Weinstein’s victims claim they were coerced into performing sexual acts, but Weinstein could argue they were not physically forced or fearful for their lives, lawyers warn.

“One of the problems in a case like this is [that] Weinstein will have the ability to argue that it doesn’t matter that the victim didn’t want to do what he wanted, because she eventually gave in,” said Wendy Murphy, an impact litigator and adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England Law in Boston.

“And a jury might respond ‘she didn’t want to consent but she did eventually. Yes he pressured her, but it was consensual,’” said Murphy.

For example, actress Lucia Evans, one of the accusers in the criminal case against Weinstein, ‘sort of just gave up’ when she was being assaulted, she told The New Yorker.

Evan’s full account of the assault, as reported by Ronan Farrow in the groundbreaking New Yorker article “From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories,” shows the loopholes Weinstein’s defense may be able use against her. 

“He forced me to perform oral sex on him.” As she [Evans] objected, Weinstein took his penis out of his pants and pulled her head down onto it. “I said, over and over, ‘I don’t want to do this, stop, don’t,’ ” she recalled. “I tried to get away, but maybe I didn’t try hard enough. I didn’t want to kick him or fight him.” In the end, she said, “he’s a big guy. He overpowered me.” She added, “I just sort of gave up. That’s the most horrible part of it, and that’s why he’s been able to do this for so long to so many women: people give up, and then they feel like it’s their fault.”

Under US law, giving up could be seen as an indication of consent.

“In a civilized country, it wouldn’t be a debate about whether its acceptable to coerce someone and cause them to give up control of their body; it would simply be illegal to coerce someone,” said Murphy.

“But I am concerned that Weinstein’s lawyers will be able to argue ‘she said no, but then she changed her mind.’”

Weinstein’s victims’ feelings of distress, coercion or desperation may not be enough to convict him.

Will Victims Testify?

This sobering reality is juxtaposed with one facet of the criminal justice system that has proven to work in the #MeToo era: bringing in all the victims in to give their testimony.

In the Bill Cosby trial, five women were able to give their testimony in front of a jury and judge.

Cosby’s victims were brought in as “prior bad acts” to demonstrate his pattern of drugging women and then raping them. And it worked. Cosby was convicted on three counts of sexual assault for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004.

Under rule 404, multiple victims can be brought before a jury to show “character evidence, crimes, or other acts” and can be a saving grace in sex crime cases.

Without the five other women who testified, Cosby probably wouldn’t have been convicted, experts told The Crime Report.

“A one on one case would be very difficult to convict” said Jonathan Mandel, a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney and a former L.A. County prosecutor and public defender.

“It matters that all the woman stood up,” he said.

Although Weinstein has over 70 woman accusing him of sex crimes, due to statute of limitation laws, among other reasons, Weinstein is only being charged with crimes against two women. But the same statute of limitation laws do not apply to victim testimony.

Under rule 404, all of the women who have accused Weinstein might be allowed to give their testimony in front of the court.

Perhaps. Ultimately, the decision will come down to the judge. If Weinstein’s case goes to trial, the judge will have the final decision over whether or not character evidence can be used.

“That’s the ammunition,” said Mandel. “They [the prosecution] need 15 women to stand up and say ‘I wasn’t interested in advancing my career, this guy is an animal.’”

Mandel said he was sure the prosecution would bring in a brigade of victims, if permitted by the judge.

“It’s going to be really ugly if it goes to trial,” he concluded.

Megan Hadley is a staff writer for The Crime Report. She welcomes comments from readers.