News Staff Decline Threatens US Justice Coverage: Study

In its annual review of crime and justice coverage in US media, Criminal Justice Journalists warns that shrinking newsrooms mean fewer eyes on the statehouses where much criminal justice policy is made.

The continued decline in staffing in news outlets throughout the nation has reduced the media resources available to cover crime and justice, according to the latest annual review of crime journalism in the US.

“Over the last 15 years, the workforce of U.S. newspapers shrunk from 412,000 employees to 174,000 (and) the number of reporters covering statehouses—where much criminal justice policy is made—has declined even further,” said the report by Criminal Justice Journalists (CJJ), citing figures quoted by Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan.

The annual CJJ review released Wednesday notes that immigration issues, the opioid crisis, sexual abuse scandals, and the continued spate of mass shootings received the most intense attention from the media during 2017.

But public interest in these topics has not helped the print media overcome the decline in readership spurred by competition from online sources.

“Newspapers are not the only source of local reporting, of course,” the review said. “Television and radio stations, and community newspapers, continue to thrive in many areas; (and) websites have filled some of the gap left by the erosion of daily newspapers.”

In one of the starkest examples of the trend, the CJJ Review pointed to the Charleston, W. Va., Gazette-Mail, which earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for its reporting on the prescription drug epidemic. Last month, the family-owned, 37,000-circulation paper filed for bankruptcy. (The Gazette-Mail said it was seeking bids from new owners.)

“Crime and justice always have been staples of local reporting, and that hasn’t changed,” the CJJ said. But it warned, “There is bound to be less of that reporting as the number of people doing it on a regular basis is much diminished in many U.S. cities.”

Rubén Rosario

Rubén Rosario

The annual review by CJJ, the only national organization of crime and justice reporters, is sponsored by the John Jay Center on Media, Crime and Justice (publisher of The Crime Report) and supported with a grant from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.

The review was prepared by Ted Gest, president of CJJ and the Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report; and Rubén Rosario, Metro columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a CJJ board member.

The review noted key findings from an analysis by Andrew Tyndall of news coverage by the nightly news programs of the three major networks:

  • The most-covered crime stories were mass shootings: the killing of 58 concertgoers in Las Vegas by Stephen Paddock, followed by the attack on members of Congress at a baseball practice in northern Virginia, and the massacre at a Texas church in which 26 people were killed.
  • Seven of the top 20 stories on all subjects had some criminal justice element, leading with the investigation into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections and including President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, the White House ban on travel from Muslim-majority nations, and the immigration crackdown generally.

One subject that received less national media coverage last year than it had in previous years was crime in Chicago, where homicides in recent years had hit the highest levels in two decades. That is because the total dropped in 2017. This Chicago Tribune summary said that the year’s murder count was down 15 percent, or more than 100.

Ted Gest

Ted Gest

Even later than the FBI report was the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics’ annual victimization survey, which on Dec. 7 estimated 5.7 million “violent victimizations” in the nation in 2016 but said that because of a redesign of the survey, there could not be a precise comparison between 2015 and 2016.

Newsweek magazine reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had misrepresented his own agency’s statistics by saying in a speech, alluding to that report, that there had been a 13 percent spike in the violent crime rate.

“The report he was citing clearly said there had been no measurable change,” Newsweek said.

The fallout from pledges by President Trump and Attorney General Sessions to take a tougher line than the Obama administration on crime and punishment, which shifted Department of Justice policies and raised concerns among reformers and advocates, received noteworthy attention from major national media, including the Washington Post and the New York Times.

“Return of the war on drugs” was the front page headline in the Washington Post on Sunday, April 9. The story featured Sessions’ hiring of federal prosecutor Steven Cook of Knoxville, Tn., an advocate of tougher federal sentencing. The Post reported that Sessions and Cook “are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and ‘90s from the peak of the drug war.”

The following day, in “The Rise and Fall of Federal Efforts to Curb Police Abuse,” the New York Times described another Obama-era policy likely to fall under Trump, the use of consent decrees to impose reforms on policing in cities across the nation. Then in June, the administration replaced the National Commission on Forensic Science with an in-house task force. The Washington Post reported on this, as well as on the suspension of an effort to set uniform standards for forensic testimony and to widen a review of FBI testimony on several controversial techniques.

Another notable example of Trump policy coverage was published by the New York Times on Nov. 22 under the headline, “Dept. of Justice Eases Scrutiny of Local Police.” The newspaper said that many police chiefs lamented the demise of the Justice Department’s “collaborative reform” program in which police departments got Justice Department advice on best practices. The article attributed the conversion of the program to “technical assistance” in large part to the Fraternal Order of Police, which believes that the previous effort was too burdensome on rank-and-file officers.

Immigration Coverage: “A New Standard of Negativity”?

Turning to immigration, the CJJ review observed that the Trump administration’s vow to crack down on undocumented residents made the issue 16th on the top 20 story subjects covered during the year in the annual analysis compiled by analyst Andrew Tyndall of stories covered by the three major broadcast networks in their nightly news programs.

Moreover, a study by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy of media coverage of President Trump’s first 100 days in office found that immigration was the single most covered subject during the period, commanding 17 percent of coverage by the major media (health care was second, with 12 percent).

The study assessed the tone of coverage, finding that overall coverage of Trump “set a new standard for negativity,” with 80 percent of it judged to be negative. Notably, immigration received far the most negative coverage of any topic, by the Shorenstein Center’s assessment, with a full 96 percent of stories judged as negative.

One reason that so much of the coverage is deemed negative may be that news stories often point out misstatements by President Trump and his associates.

For example, on Aug. 10, Slate.com reported on Trump’s repeated references to the 2015 killing of Kate Steinle in San Francisco by a man who had been deported from the US five times and who then re-entered the country illegally. (The man was recently acquitted.) Early in his presidential campaign, Trump said, “Public reports routinely state great amounts of crime are being committed by illegal immigrants.”

Slate countered: “This is not true. Study after study shows undocumented immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than the general population, and crime rates in cities with large immigrant populations have fallen disproportionately. Regardless, the lie that undocumented immigrants are likely to be violent criminals would help propel Trump to the GOP nomination and ultimately the presidency.”

Much of the local coverage has dealt with aspects of the “sanctuary city” question, with many stories about the administration’s threats to withhold federal aid from jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with federal authorities on detaining undocumented immigrants. Many big city mayors and police chiefs have not complied, arguing that many citizens, both legal residents and others, will not cooperate with law enforcement on any issue if they could be threatened with deportation.

Police shootings and misconduct were another set of issues that drew national attention again last year. The CJJ Review singled out the Washington Post as one of the few national media outlets that have closely following the problem of police misconduct since the 2014 Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO.

On Sunday, Aug. 6, the newspaper published results of a major investigation headlined “Fired/Rehired,” concluding that since 2006 at least 1,881 officers had been fired by 37 large police departments. Some 451 of them appealed and won their jobs back through rulings of arbitrators.

Opioids: Deaths (and Media Coverage) Increase

Media attention to the opioid crisis has tracked the rising overdose death totals especially in the Rust Belt states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. CJJ singled out CBS’ “60 Minutes” and the Washington Post for an investigation broadcast and published on Oct.15, which reported that Congress in the spring of 2016 stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from its strongest weapon against drug companies that are suspected of providing large quantities of prescription narcotics to the public. The law made it virtually impossible for DEA to freeze suspicious drug shipments from the companies.

The reporting had at least one significant result: It highlighted the fact that the legislation had been spearheaded by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), who had been nominated by President Trump as the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (popularly known as the “drug czar.”) After all the publicity, Marino withdrew his candidacy.

Another notable example of coverage came from The Cincinnati Enquirer, located in the heart of the area most affected by the opioid epidemic, which published a special report on Sept. 10 headlined “Seven Days of Heroin: This Is What An Epidemic Looks Like.”

As described by Nieman Storyboard, during one week in July, the newspaper sent more than 60 reporters, photographers and videographers to document the impact of heroin in the Cincinnati area. They went to jails, courts, methadone clinics and psychiatric hospitals. The reporting included witnessing overdoses, listening to 911 calls, attending recovery meetings and riding with police officers who were looking for users and dealers. They tallied 18 deaths and 180 overdoses during the week.

Nieman Storyboard called the paper’s effort “a riveting portrait of the human face of heroin. Instead of a traditional narrative, the project was presented largely as a series of chronological vignettes, interspersed with photos, social media posts, 911 recordings and rap lyrics. The mixed-media collage effectively showed that virtually no local geography or institution was left untouched by heroin.”

These and other stories are indications that the media have covered the opioid crisis both as a public health emergency and as a criminal justice challenge. This contrasts with the treatment of the crack cocaine surge of the 1980s, which was mostly reported on as a law enforcement issue.

Sexual Harassment’s Media Moment

Sexual abuse in the U.S. may not have increased, but news media coverage of it  intensified, the CJJ said, noting that “it seemed that hardly a week went by in late 2017 before another celebrity was accused of harassment, some of it dating from decades earlier.”

The issue exploded onto the front pages in early October, when the New York Times published an extensive report that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had quietly settled at least eight sexual harassment complaints over three decades. It was not clear in early 2018 that any of the numerous accusations against Weinstein would lead to a criminal case, but the Weinstein story set the backdrop for a number of other prominent charges against entertainment and media figures as well as politicians, such as U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who was pressured to resign after he was accused of abuse in several cases.

The news media themselves were hit by a barrage of major departures over sexual harassment charges, including Matt Lauer of NBC, Charlie Rose of CBS, Michael Oreskes of NPR, and Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker.

“The news media is supposed to be a surrogate for the public, and most Americans don’t like the thought that our surrogates are living in and endorsing workplace environments in which sexual harassment now seems to be too common,” Jeffrey McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University, told The Hill.

“Further complicating the media’s image in all of this is the sanctimonious manner in which the media has covered sexual harassment in other corners of society,” McCall said. “It is difficult for the news media to parade around as haughty overseers of right and wrong in broader contexts of society when they clearly have in-house confusion about first principles of decency.”

Kelly McBride of the Florida-based Poynter Institute, a longtime writer on media ethics, says that many media policies on reporting sexual harassment are behind the times, limited to rules such as “Because of the stigma associated with sexual assault, we do not publish the names of victims.”

McBride issued a challenge to news organizations:

Rather than starting with a policy that tells us what to avoid, what if our policies encouraged us to tell the story of sexual assault more completely, so that the public might understand how it happens and how to prevent it? Today’s policies presume that our journalistic motive for telling a sexual assault story is rooted in our urge to improve public safety. But sexual assault isn’t really a public safety problem; it’s a public health problem

This is a condensed version of the CJJ report. The full copy can be downloaded here. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Sex Workers Fight Efforts to Link Prostitution with Trafficking

As the campaign against sex trafficking emerges as a $47 million cottage industry, it has also spurred a “moral panic” that sex workers say has made them increasingly vulnerable to police abuse, and turns them into targets for those with religious or moral objections to prostitution.

At the height of national outrage over what government officials and activists call a human trafficking “epidemic,” sex workers are challenging what they say are misleading and harmful efforts to link prostitution to sex trafficking.

“People have used this moral panic, this idea that there is a trafficking epidemic, to create so much funding and so much policy that now that they’re being pressured to show the evidence—to show the sex trafficking arrests,” said Tara Burns, researcher and founding member of the Community United for Safety and Protection (CUSP), a group of former and current Alaska sex workers allied with sex trafficking victims.

“That’s where we see police arresting [prostitutes] for sex trafficking themselves, just so they can get those sex trafficking numbers up, and match the moral panic they’ve created.”

CUSP is lobbying for the passage of companion bills (HB 112/SB 73) in the Alaska Senate and House which would expand sexual assault laws to explicitly prohibit law enforcement from sexual contact with trafficking or domestic violence victims—as part of its continuing campaign to protect sex workers from laws that make them “vulnerable to violence and exploitation.”

In California, another group is challenging a state law that criminalizes prostitution, and asking a federal court to allow for a closer examination of studies that link consensual sex work to sex trafficking.

In January, a three-judge panel in the 9th circuit dismissed a suit by the Sex Workers and Erotic Service Providers Legal, Educational and Research Project (ESPLERP) to declare unconstitutional state laws that make prostitution a crime. The panel sided with 13 state and national organizations that wrote in to oppose ESPLERP, arguing that prostitution needs to remain criminalized in order to combat the “attendant evils” of violence against women, drug abuse—and above all, sex-trafficking.

ESPLERP filed for a rehearing before the full 9th circuit on January 31, wanting the court to subject the studies it cited to a higher standard of review. But in an era when pornography has been declared a “public health crisis” linked to modern-day slavery, researchers who do not openly condemn prostitution are fighting an uphill battle—and sex workers themselves find it hard to be heard over the din of victims’ advocates who would speak for them.

9th circuit

ESPLERP members and their legal team in court on Oct 2, 2017. Photo courtesy of Maxine Doogan

Maxine Doogan, founder of ESPLERP, says that denying sex workers equal protection under the law has led directly to abuse by police and other authorities, and that she and other people in the industry cannot report actual cases of forced trafficking without fearing arrest themselves.

“There are many people, many women, that I know who are prostitutes, who have been caught up in these prostitution sting operations; and have been sexually assaulted by the police, and raped,” she said in an interview with The Crime Report.

“Our activity is illegal. and so that just gives license for anybody to do anything to us that they want at any time, and get away with it.”

In the document submitted to the California court, opposition groups argued that “prostitution is sexual coercion, and closely related to sex trafficking,” and that “decriminalization of prostitution will legitimize sex trafficking.”

The authors of the opposition brief cited numerous “authorities” for their argument, identifying in particular eight publications by Melissa Farley, a clinical psychologist and anti-pornography activist well known for her view that sex work is “a particularly lethal form of male violence against women,” and an expression of “male hatred of the female body.”

“To the extent that any woman is assumed to have freely chosen prostitution, then it follows that enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature,” Farley wrote in a 2000 article for Women & Criminal Justice.

But according to independent scholars in the field, the majority of the publications cited in the opposition brief have not only been debunked, but also discredited in the Canadian Supreme Court during cross-examination. The court subsequently struck down Canada’s anti-prostitution laws, finding them unconstitutional because of the negative impact they had on the safety and lives of sex workers.

Doogan notes that victim advocates are “not challenging the men who really have control over our world.”

She added: “They want to dismiss the sexual violence that we’re talking about that goes on with police.”

Doogan and other sex-worker advocates argue that the majority of people being rounded up and arrested during anti-sex-trafficking sweeps such as Operation Cross Country are not slaves held in bondage, but women working together, or as independent prostitutes– a claim supported by investigative journalists following this arrest data.

CUSP’s Terra Burns, who has analyzed thousands of charging documents from several states over the past five years, said that the most serious cases of child sex trafficking “are for the most part not cases that are being found in prostitution stings, [but] cases that are being found because somebody came forward and made a report.”

And in jurisdictions that aren’t aggressively charging people for prostitution, more sex workers are coming to police with tips, she added.

Burns, who herself was sex trafficked as a child, has lobbied extensively for legislative amendments in Alaska. She helped push through bills at the state and county level to allow immunity for sex workers reporting a crime, and hopes Alaska legislators will place priority on the proposed measure to make it illegal for police to sexually penetrate someone they were investigating.

“When an officer coerces you into having sex with him under the threat of arrest, or another kind of threat, that is an act of violence,” Burns said.

Police don’t need to have sex with someone in order to charge them with prostitution, but it happens. She describes one charging document where a police officer paid for a hand job at a massage parlor. “They could have arrested her right there, but instead he waited and got a hand job. and then he put her in handcuffs. And when that happens, it’s really traumatic.”

alaska legislature

Doogan (left) and Burns, introducing their first bills. Photo courtesy of Terra Burns

Other charging documents, published on CUSP’s website, describe police having multiple sex acts with women before arresting them.

The Alaska Department of Law as well as the Anchorage police continue to oppose the no-sexual-contact bill, and it has stalled for almost a year.

See also: ‘Invisible No More:’ The Other Women #MeToo Should Defend

In addition to government task forces, the anti-trafficking movement has also created a $47 million cottage industry of victim advocacy.

Significantly, in order to receive funding, organizations are still being asked to sign a Bush-era anti-prostitution pledge (also known as the “global gag rule”), even though it was ruled unconstitutional in a 2013 Supreme Court decision.

The same goes for researchers, according to George Washington University sociologist Ronald Weitzer, who has studied the sex industry and human trafficking for over three decades, and who served as an expert witness in the case before Canada’s Supreme Court. Before the gag rule was overturned, he was asked to sign the pledge in order to conduct an academic literature review for the National Institute of Justice.

“It’s shocking that even something as mundane as a literature review in this area becomes politicized,” he told The Crime Report.

More recent examples include University of Nevada researcher Barbara Brent, who was part of a 2014 task force developing a trafficking education program for first responders in Nevada.

In an email to The Crime Report, she wrote: “Participants, including Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, who receive federal trafficking funds, indicated that I could not include sex worker rights organizations on the team to develop programs because that violated their grant agreement. The task force eventually fizzled out, and I don’t know what happened to those efforts.”

Last year, the New Hampshire Human Trafficking Collaborative Task Force broke ties with its grants manager, Kate D’Amato, for apparently supporting decriminalization during a public event. The Manchester Police Department said D’Amato’s opinions violated a federal grant, though it is unclear whether that claim was ever challenged.

“What it means is often you’ll get religious or evangelical organizations, both in the US and internationally, to get funding for anti-trafficking work but have very little expertise in the area,” said Weitzer.

“And this was a major criticism of the bush administration funding for many of these anti-trafficking organizations during that period.”

For example: Priceless Alaska, a Christian anti- trafficking organization that works closely with law enforcement, engages a team of volunteer mentors to work with trafficking victims. By way of preparation, mentors receive a three-day training. According to its website, the training “focuses on the mentor’s personal spiritual development first and sex trafficking-specific training second.”

Among the organizations that signed on to the ESPLERP opposition brief was Covenant House, the largest privately funded agency in the US that provides services to homeless and runaway youth. Last year, Covenant House worked with Loyola University to produce a multi-city report on forced labor and sex trafficking. The report claims that one in every 5 homeless youth are victims of human trafficking.

In Anchorage, that number was even higher: “Study: 1 in 4 homeless youths in Anchorage victims of human trafficking,” the local headline read.

But Burns, who has been collecting state and county arrest records for over five years, says that the data don’t add up, and that the report is intentionally misleading.

“Nobody’s been charged with trafficking a minor in Alaska since 2008,” she told The Crime Report.

In 2014, following the national trend, Alaska created the Special Crimes Investigation Unit, which is devoted to finding and rescuing juveniles who are being trafficked for commercial sex.

“They’ve existed with that mission for four years now,” said Burns, “and have yet to charge anybody with trafficking a minor.”

The problem with the Loyola report, according to Burns, is the way it switches between various definitions of a sex trafficking victim; from youth that are not involved in the commercial sex industry at all, “youths that are underage and just trading sex for survival means,” and youths who are being coerced or held in bondage and commercially trafficked.

“If [Loyola researchers] had talked to a youth who actively had a violent pimp, they would have had to report that to police and the police would have gone in— because they’ve been looking to charge somebody with trafficking a minor, obviously, to support all this rhetoric. We would see some charges if it were actually going on in that way,” Burns said.

But when “you’re not being honest about what you’re actually talking about, and then you’re turning around and saying ‘oh these kids are being kidnapped by pimps and forced into prostitution’— then the policy that ends up being created is not going to serve those actually kids that really exist–that are out there having survival sex right now.”

Fundamentally, Burns believes that this study—and others like it—are compromised by the “religious agenda” underlying the moral campaign.

“Covenant House and Loyola University are both religious organizations who have a religious agenda to prevent other people from having sex that they disapprove of,” she said.

What Burns has found by looking at thousands of charging documents is that the majority of people arrested in “sex trafficking” stings are women working together as prostitutes, or with a driver—both things that increase safety in the sex industry, she says.

Just three people were charged with sex trafficking in the first two years of Alaska’s new sex-trafficking law. One was a dancer charged with sex trafficking herself, according records Burns obtained.

Another was Amber Batts, the owner of the online escort service Sensual Alaska. Prosecutors were unable to charge her with force, fraud, or coercion, since people were working for the service of their own free will– but they still convicted her on charges of 2nd degree sex trafficking. She was sentenced to five years in prison.

“When you think of sex trafficking, you think of people that are held against their will and made to do things that they don’t want to do,” Batts’ sister, Tiana Escalante, told The Crime Report.

Escalante described being shocked to learn that a woman can be charged with sex trafficking in Alaska for a consensual act—even when she is working independently.

“I think it’s kind of outrageous. It’s her body, her right to choose.”

Meanwhile, despite the funding for sex trafficking “rescue” operations, Burns says that as a first responder she has been unable to get law enforcement to investigate two recent cases where victims were held against their will and sold for sex. In the first case, she said the FBI told her there was not enough evidence.

“I’ve been involved in or around criminal investigations for quite a bit,” she said. “There was so much evidence, there were text messages.”

In the second case, she said, despite having an admission from a violent pimp on social media, “the FBI told me they didn’t have time.”

A year ago, Burns helped one victim who was violently trafficked make a report to the FBI, and managed to get her money from the state Victims of Violent Crimes Compensation Fund.

“But the people from the violent crime compensation board actually called me up and let me know, ‘you won’t be able to receive this money on her behalf because we can’t give money to organizations that don’t oppose prostitution,’” she said.

Describing people who have illegal sex as being incapable of making a choice, or too corrupted to understand their own victimhood, isn’t a new strategy.

“It’s very similar if you look at the history of the laws against gay sex and the stigma around gay people… you look back and remember [people said] ‘well, there’s only gay because they were abused as children. And so the gay people are going to go out and they’re going to rape our children,’” Burns said.

“That’s the same kind of stigma that we see around the sex work. Well, prostitutes are all either victims, or they started out as victims and now they’re going to go and victimize somebody else.

“Imagine if you saw the same kind of rhetoric around domestic violence victims. Saying that domestic violence victims need to be arrested because they’re too morally damaged to know what’s good for them.”

This is precisely what Doogan and her cohort are trying to face down in court. As a sex worker and founder of ESPLERP, she insists that she is not a victim.

“If you were a victim advocate, I wouldn’t even bother talking to you,” she told The Crime Report. She calls them the “Anti’s.” “I think that they’re extremely tone deaf.”

“They’re treating us like the sex slaves that they think that we are. That’s the problem with their approach. I stopped talking to them because they don’t want to hear, and take responsibility for their own exploitative behavior.”

Members of the media are some of the worst perpetrators of this narrative violence, says Doogan, “renaming us, reclassifying us, stripping us of our agency.

“We have been barred from our own authority on these issues.”

Those interested in watching oral arguments in ESPLERP v. Gascon can view them here. Victoria Mckenzie is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments. 

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘Invisible No More:’ The Other Women #MeToo Should Defend

Minority victims of sexual assault by law enforcement have often been ignored by reformers seeking to improve police-community relations, says attorney Andrea Ritchie. In a conversation with TCR, Ritchie, who assembled a database of 300 such cases, including transgendered, lesbian and gay victims, argues the issue should also be part of the nationwide focus on combating  sexual harassment.

Calls for reforms aimed at improving relations between police and the communities where they work have tended to leave out an important constituency: minority women, including those who are transgendered or gay.

That’s the message Andrea J. Ritchie, an author, attorney, activist and scholar, repeats at each stop of a current tour promoting her book “Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color,” published last year.

The proof, she says, is reflected in ongoing headlines about #MeToo—a movement mainly of white women alleging sexual harassment and assault by powerful men—and the comparative lack of attention to #SayHerName, a hashtag emerging from a report by Ritchie and Professor Kimberlè Williams Crenshaw of the University of California at Los Angeles and Columbia University School of Law. The African American Policy Forum published that report, entitled “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women,” in 2015.

Invisible No MoreRitchie, a Barnard College researcher-in-residence and former Soros Foundation Social Justice Fellow, speaks from personal experience. She says that being a black lesbian who was once sexually assaulted by a police officer factors into her research and advocacy. She told Katti Gray, The Crime Report contributing editor, that her current efforts include trying to persuade the New York Police Department to ban its practice—a common one, nationwide—of having police investigate allegations of sexual assault and harassment by police. She’s well aware, she adds, that Chicago Police Department union leaders blocked a similar attempt at establishing civilian review of alleged police rape last year. Here’s an abridged version of Ritchie’s conversation with Gray.

 The Crime Report: In her foreword to “Invisible No More,” scholar and former Black Panther Party activist Angela Davis called it a very difficult book to read. Was it hard for you to write?

 Andrea J. Ritchie: I was sifting through reports, watching videos, looking at photographs and speaking directly to some of these sexually assaulted women and girls, and their families, and the relatives of women killed by police. I was witnessing people’s pain and vulnerability and their sense of betrayal by a society that largely ignores these crimes.

There were so many stories that I worried about which to cut from the manuscript. If I cut them, the public would never know what happened. So I also created a database of these cases on the book’s website. It contains 300 cases right now; we’re about to update that to add about 100 more. And these are not all the stories that are out there. If a person had filed a lawsuit against police, that case was already being told publicly. There are cases I came across where I felt we had to protect someone’s identity, fearing they would face retaliation for speaking up. Sometimes, the assaulted women are necessarily kept anonymous.

Yes, writing this book was hard. At the same time, it was healing. Bringing these issues to light, hopefully, will lead to action that makes these things not happen again.

TCR: How far back in history are these cases you write about?

 Ritchie: Back to the1950s, when the Civil Rights Congress, through its We Charge Genocide report, chronicled a number of cases of police violence against black women and girls.

But, in actual reality, these crimes started in 1492 when Christopher Columbus landed on these shores and began committing violence against indigenous people and indigenous women … and in [the 1500s] when blacks were first brought here as slaves.

TCR: Of all the stories of police violence against women in “Invisible No More,” which did you find the most searing?

 Ritchie: The ones that strike me make it so clear that these controlling, mythical narratives about black women and indigenous women, which are rooted in slavery, still operate in policing today.

In one case, a 12-year-old black girl had stepped outside to flip a circuit breaker back on while her mom was cooking in the kitchen. The police—who’d been called to pick up three white girls for prostitution—decided to arrest that 12-year-old black girl for prostitution instead. When they went after her, she started screaming for her mom … Eventually, the police officers showed up at her school to charge her with resisting arrest. You do not see this child as a child? You see her through nothing except the lies told over and over again about black women being promiscuous, involved in the sex trade, inherently criminal.

Another that sticks in my heart is of a Native American trans woman I met in Los Angeles more than 10 years ago … Police detained her, assaulted her, then threw her out of the car afterward and said “Yes, you are Native … We can do anything to you that we want.”

Another story: When a black woman on her stoop in Chicago laughed because a police officer couldn’t catch someone he was chasing, he punched her in the stomach and said, “You, black bitch.” He deliberately assaulted her as a mother and assaulted her child … He sent her into premature (delivery) later.

I could tell you story after story that enraged me. I cannot think of just one that makes me cry or keeps me up at night. They all do.

 TCR: What do the data suggest about women who are assaulted by police?

 Ritchie: The data are limited. When these crimes are counted, it’s when people report them to the media or file civil complaints. In that way, it’s clear that those who are sexually assaulted, predominantly, are black and other women of color. And police deliberately target women least likely to report.

Of the available data, one national study, conducted by a former police officer [Bowling Green State University Professor Phil Stinson] of [548] officers arrested for misconduct showed that 73 percent of sexual assault victims whose age was known were less than 18 years old. [After that 2014 study, the U.S. Justice Department funded Stinson’s study, released in 2016, of more than 6,700 police arrested nationwide. It chronicled 1,475 arrests of 1,070 sworn officers on charges of sexual misconduct.]

Many of these victimized women are in the drug trade, sex trade, or are women who are homeless, transgender, domestic violence survivors, sexual assault survivors. Police have deliberately targeted lesbian, and sometimes say they are—by sexually assaulting them—trying to show lesbians another path.

 TCR: You suggest that even among black social and political activists there is too little focus on crimes against black women. What do you mean?

 Ritchie: I’d reframe the question a bit. Black women, among ourselves, do organize around and tell the stories of violence against black women. I do agree, though, that, in the mainstream narrative, in the media, those black women’s stories are not placed in the foreground.

Also, black women often will speak at a rally about violence against their child or their husband but not against black women. We’ve internalized this notion that state violence happens to black and brown men, and private violence happens to white women.

TCR: Black women see speaking up as problematic?

Ritchie: Yes. But telling our stories does not take away from the experiences of black and brown men … I believe more women would come forward if they thought there would be protests on their behalf and the same kind of outrage that’s expressed when a black or brown man is shot down by police.

Often, the condemning comments on articles I’ve written are from black men, saying “Here come black women, gay ones, trying to take the spotlight away from us and our oppression.” That hurts. I’ve been on the street protesting the killing of every single black man that I could. I have fought for policies that protect all of us. There is so much opportunity for solidarity. [Georgetown Law Professor and former federal prosecutor] Paul Butler’s book, “Chokehold: Policing Black Men” talks about how men also are sexually assaulted by police. This work isn’t about dividing, it’s about fighting for change together…

It’s about leaving no one behind and looking at all of our experiences to understand the extent of the problem and come up with a full solution, instead of half a solution.

 TCR: In your years of litigating, researching, writing, and protesting on this front, what has changed, and what hasn’t?

 Ritchie: Particularly in the last three or four years, the level of awareness has risen significantly. That’s because of the work of the Black Youth Project, the African American Policy Forum, the Ferguson uprising and others. The Sandra Bland case helped catapult this to the forefront.

 What hasn’t changed is how much those experiences still do not inform our analysis of the issues and the strategies we use to resist bad policing and advance police reform.

What I’m looking at now is the question of how women’s experiences change the conversation. How do you hold police accountable for assaulting women of color in the same way that you hold them accountable for use of excessive force? How does excessive force affect women differently? Most departments have no policy about limitations of force against pregnant women. It’s not about just saying another name at a rally. But it’s about shifting the focus and the demands we make, and the reforms we pursue, and really rethinking approaches to all of this.

TCR: What are some examples of the changes you espouse?

 Ritchie: It can range from very specific things like rethinking mandatory arrest policies, which grows out of concern that domestic violence isn’t taken seriously enough. Police don’t really change how they behave when they respond to calls for help. Black women often are treated as perpetrators rather than survivors of violence. Eliminate that mandatory arrest policy. That would involve a more holistic, community-based approach. It involves the community asking, “What is contributing to this violence? What makes it seem OK to abuse someone in a private relationship? How can we take responsibility for that, instead of calling the police? How can people in the community rally to stop that?”

There are examples of communities that have domestic violence response teams. If you speak to elders in some communities, you’ll hear them say there was a time when the family sat down and said, “This will not happen again” to the perpetrator.

 TCR: Where are there active examples of that?

 Ritchie: I don’t necessarily want to point these out as models, per se, but Spirit House in Durham, N.C. does just what I was talking about. Creative Interventions has a handbook about how to respond to domestic and other violence in your community. The Audre Lorde Project in Brooklyn has created a program for LGBT people around police violence and community crimes. Those are just a few examples.

TCR:  You’ve pointed out some differences in the #MeToo and #SayHername movements.

 Ritchie: My recent op-ed for The Washington Post highlighted the reality that this heightened national conversation on sexual violence needs to shine the spotlight on sexual violence by police officers. To the extent that we are raising our hands and saying “me, too” we need to have a response regarding women of color who are assaulted by the very people we’re supposed to turn to protect us, but who are getting away with these crimes.

The Crime Report contributing editor Katti Gray covers criminal justice and health, mainly, for a variety of publications. She welcomes your comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Report Finds ‘Systemic’ Lapses in Justice Dept. Sex Complaints

The Justice Department’s inspector general says supervisors have mishandled sexual misconduct complaints. Some perpetrators escaped discipline or were even later rewarded with bonuses or performance awards.

The U.S. Justice Department has “systemic” problems in how it handles sexual harassment complaints, reports the Washington Post. Justice supervisors have mishandled complaints, according to the department’s inspector general, and some perpetrators were given little discipline or even later rewarded with bonuses or performance awards. The cases examined by the IG’s office include a U.S. attorney who had a sexual relationship with a subordinate and sent harassing texts and emails when it ended; a Civil Division lawyer who groped the breasts and buttocks of two female trial attorneys; and a chief deputy U.S. marshal who had sex with “approximately” nine women on multiple occasions in his U.S. Marshals Service office, according to investigative reports obtained by the Post.

“We’re talking about presidential appointees, political appointees, FBI special agents in charge, U.S. attorneys, wardens, a chief deputy U.S. marshal, a U.S. marshal assistant director, a deputy assistant attorney general,” Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said in an interview. On May 31 — before the issue exploded into the national consciousness — Horowitz sent a stern memo about sexual harassment to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who said he would consider whether additional guidance to Justice employees was required. “It is fortunate that there are relatively few substantiated incidents of sexual harassment, but even one incident is too many,” Rosenstein said in a statement at the time.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Philadelphia Pays $1.25M in Police Sex Harassment Case

Philadelphia paid $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit by a woman who claimed a veteran police commander sexually assaulted her when she was an officer in a department in which she said sexual harassment was pervasive.

Philadelphia paid $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit by a woman who claimed a veteran police commander sexually assaulted her when she was an officer in a department in which she said sexual harassment was pervasive, reports Philly.com. The commander, Chief Inspector Carl Holmes, remains on the job eight months after the payout, but the fallout may not be over. Mayor Jim Kenney’s spokesman said the mayor found the case “extremely troubling, from start to end.” Although Kenney did not call for anyone to step down, as he did after a much smaller payout to settle similar claims against city Sheriff Jewell Williams, he left open the possibility that the city’s new top prosecutor may launch his own review.

The allegations against Holmes are a decade old. But the settlement came during a year in which similar and damning allegations against powerful men in the workplace have surfaced almost daily, leading to a national reckoning in Hollywood, the media, and politics. The judge overseeing the case offered a pointed assessment before the city agreed to resolve it. The accuser, the judge wrote, “has provided sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude the City knew of its specific problems with sexual assault and harassment in the police department … but did little or nothing to stop such conduct.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Philadelphia Pays $1.25M in Police Sex Harassment Case

Philadelphia paid $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit by a woman who claimed a veteran police commander sexually assaulted her when she was an officer in a department in which she said sexual harassment was pervasive.

Philadelphia paid $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit by a woman who claimed a veteran police commander sexually assaulted her when she was an officer in a department in which she said sexual harassment was pervasive, reports Philly.com. The commander, Chief Inspector Carl Holmes, remains on the job eight months after the payout, but the fallout may not be over. Mayor Jim Kenney’s spokesman said the mayor found the case “extremely troubling, from start to end.” Although Kenney did not call for anyone to step down, as he did after a much smaller payout to settle similar claims against city Sheriff Jewell Williams, he left open the possibility that the city’s new top prosecutor may launch his own review.

The allegations against Holmes are a decade old. But the settlement came during a year in which similar and damning allegations against powerful men in the workplace have surfaced almost daily, leading to a national reckoning in Hollywood, the media, and politics. The judge overseeing the case offered a pointed assessment before the city agreed to resolve it. The accuser, the judge wrote, “has provided sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude the City knew of its specific problems with sexual assault and harassment in the police department … but did little or nothing to stop such conduct.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Pentagon Data Give Sex Assault Report Totals by Base

Data released by the Defense Department for the first time show there were about six sexual assault reports per 1,000 personnel last year. The Navy led the way among military branches; the Marine Corps had the lowest rate.

The Defense Department has for the first time released data on the number of reports of sexual assault across all U.S. military installations at home and abroad, by base, the Huffington Post reports.

Looking only at military personnel — not dependents, civilian contractors or others — and using figures from a 2015 Department of Defense report or more recent figures provided by installations themselves — a clearer picture emerges of which bases seem to have more of a problem with sexual assaults, at least as indicated by number of reports.

Of the three-quarters of U.S. bases for which recent population figures of military personnel were available, an average rate for installations in 2016 is 0.56 percent, or almost six reports per 1,000 personnel. The average figure for 2015 was slightly lower at 0.53 percent, or closer to five reports per 1,000.

The Navy led the way among military branches in 2016 with almost six reports per 1,000; and the Marine Corps was lowest, with approximately four per 1,000. (The Air Force and Army weighed in a few points apart, both in the mid-fives per 1,000.) Larger bases did not seem to have greater problems with sexual assault. Of the 20 largest U.S. bases and joint bases by military population, only four were above the U.S. average rate for sexual assaults reported in 2016 — Naval Station Great Lakes (IL); Joint Base San Antonio (TX); Fort Hood (TX); and Naval Station Norfolk (VA). Of the 20 bases with the highest rates in 2016, many were smaller bases and reserve bases located throughout the U.S.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Conyers Should Quit Over Harassment Case: Free Press

Payment to a former staff member who charged that she was sexually harassed “looks an awful lot like hush money” and violates House ethics rules, the Detroit Free Press says of Rep. John Conyers Jr., top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, should resign over an alleged sexual harassment scandal, his home-town Detroit Free Press says in an editorial. The newspaper calls him an “undisputed hero of the civil rights movement” but also an “aging icon whose felonious wife and sometimes-wandering pace have confounded his place in history.” The newspaper concludes that, “He should resign his position and allow the investigation into his behavior to unfold without the threat that it would render him, and the people he now represents, effectively voiceless.”

On Monday, BuzzFeed reported a former Conyers staffer’s claims that she was fired after she rebuffed the congressman’s persistent sexual advances. Those claims were made in sworn affidavits by the alleged victim and three other former staffers. Conyers denies the claim, but his office decided that if the woman dropped her complaint and signed a legal document attesting that Conyers had done no wrong, and if she agreed never to disparage him or make subsequent claims, she’d be re-hired as a temporary “no-show” employee and paid $27,111.75 over three months. House ethics rules are clear, saying that a member can’t retain an employee who isn’t performing work commensurate with the pay and can’t give back pay for work that stretches further than a month. The payment in this case “looks an awful lot like hush money,” the Free Press says.

from https://thecrimereport.org