It’s Vagina News Link Madness!

Holy cow, there’s a lot going on. Time to play catch-up. Ready? Let’s go:

  • I just finished a free online class in International Women’s Health and Human Rights through Stanford (they’re going to offer it again, and I HIGHLY recommend it – get on the list here). I learned a lot about the history of these issues in the UN, and specifically about the Millennium Development Goals. Last week, the 2014 Commission on the Status of Women ended “with an agreement that called for the acceleration of progress towards achieving the millennium development goals, and confirming the need for a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the set of international targets that will be introduced once they expire in 2015. The agreement also said gender equality must underpin all other goals.” The details are interesting and encouraging, and very much worth a read.
  • Last week also saw the Hobby Lobby case argued before the Supreme Court. The craziest part of the case, IMHO, is the fact that the entire argument is based on an objection to ACA coverage of IUDs and the morning-after pill, based on the belief that they cause abortion – which they absolutely, undeniably DON’T. (They prevent conception. Hence the word “contra-ception”. Spermy no meet eggy.) Yet this case has risen all the way to the Supreme Court because the owners of Hobby Lobby (and another company) BELIEVE they cause abortion, and that would violate their religious beliefs (never mind that a corporation can’t believe anything.) Anyway, I bring it up to introduce this great piece on our three female Supreme Court Justices, which pounds home the importance of gender parity in all levels of government.
  •  Buzzfeed isn’t just lists of .gifs… They’ve done some important reporting on campus sexual assault; specifically, legal violations serious enough to prompt the federal investigation of a school less than a mile from where I’m sitting right now.
  • Jimmy Carter has a new book out, ‘A Call to Action’, and in it, he blames selective application of religious dogma for the unconscionable treatment of women and girls around the world. “The most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls… This claim that women are inferior before God spreads to the secular world to justify gross and sustained acts of discrimination and violence against them… This is not just a women’s issue. It is not confined to the poorest countries. It affects us all.”
  • And finally, a great article from the Money section of The New York Times about how gender discrimination affects women’s salary negotiations in the workplace. Like most contemporary manifestations of sexism, it’s not overt; rather it’s a combination of learned behavior and double standards that make everyone complicit. The article is a solid step toward becoming aware of how we may be participating unknowingly, and how to stop.

Crazy States: WTF Hawaii?!

It’s been almost four months since our last edition of Crazy States, but we’re back with a biggie.

Hawaii’s in the process of passing a bill (HB 1926) that cracks down on a number of crimes, including prostitution. One of the things the original draft of the bill did was stipulate that police are not allowed to have sex with prostitutes in the pursuit of an investigation. Seems pretty straightforward, right? While there are some exceptions, like undercover cops being allowed to do drugs if it’s required in order for them to maintain cover, police are not allowed to break the law in order to enforce the law. But Hawaii police disagree. It turns out that for a long time in Hawaii, police have been allowed to have sex with prostitutes, and they’ve testified that they need to keep doing it.

It’s important to understand that there’s a huge overlap between prostitution and sex trafficking. A lot of people believe that most prostitutes are adults who have ‘chosen’ their profession, but the reality is that many were abducted, tricked, or sold into prostitution, and are being held there through a combination of violence, economic slavery, forced addiction, and a number of other tools of modern slavery. The average age of a trafficked prostitute is 13. Trafficked prostitutes are common in Hawaii, as the islands are a convenient stop between Asia and the US, are hubs for tourists and the military, and receive a steady flow of low-wage foreign agricultural workers and their families.

So if a police officer has sex with a prostitute, there’s a good chance he is adding to the exploitation and traumatizing of a child trafficking victim. In addition to the obvious ethical issue, Derek Marsh (who trains California police in best practices on human trafficking cases and twice has testified to Congress about the issue) points out that such a practice worsens victims’ already entrenched distrust of police. Why the distrust?

“Police abuse is part of the life of prostitution,” said Melissa Farley, the executive director of the San Francisco-based group Prostitution Research and Education. Farley said that in places without such police protections “women who have escaped prostitution” commonly report being coerced into giving police sexual favors to keep from being arrested…

 

There have been instances of police being accused of victimizing sex workers across the nation. In Philadelphia, a former officer is on trial facing charges of raping two prostitutes after forcing them at gunpoint to take narcotics. A former West Sacramento, Calif., officer is awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of raping prostitutes in his police cruiser while on patrol. And last year in Massachusetts, a former police officer pleaded guilty to extorting sex from prostitutes he threatened with arrest.

On the upside, HB 1926 proposes increased penalties for johns and pimps, while prostitution itself would remain a petty misdemeanor. But the bill has been amended to allow police to continue having sex with prostitutes, has passed the Hawaii state House, and is headed to the Senate.

Vagina-tastic Documentary Alert – ‘Vessel’

How many hours have been spent debating and discussing what can be done for women in places where abortion is legally or functionally inaccessible?

A LOT.

Here’s what Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, subject of SXSW Documentary Feature Audience Award winner ‘Vessel‘, did… She started an organization that, among other things, sends small ships to international waters outside countries where abortion is illegal, and invites women to come aboard and receive the education and supplies they need to undergo a safe medical abortion.

Go see ‘Vessel‘ and ‘Anita‘ (the documentary about Anita Hill) and have yourself a feminist double-feature!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Yes, it’s ridiculous that there’s an arguable need to pick a single day to highlight the accomplishments and challenges of more than half the world’s population, but there is, so I’m embracing it.

In celebration, here are a few links I’ve been saving up. Good reading & learning.

First, a man doing something wonderful for women in a place where male allies are desperately needed.

Second, I’m really glad I waited to post this one, because a few days ago it was a terrible story, and now it isn’t.

Third and finally, a FANTASTIC PBS documentary series about women in situations of conflict and refugee/displacement. It’s not uplifting, but it’s critically important to understanding the realities women face every day around the world.

Onward and upward!

One California Judge is Trying to Fix the Way US Courts Treat Sex Trafficking Victims

Hoo boy. This is one of those pieces that makes you want to stop everything you’re doing and find a way to help.

A lot of young women – often very young women – who work as prostitutes all over the world are there because they’re victims of sex trafficking. They were abducted, tricked, or even sold by their families into sexual slavery, working under threat of violence to pay off a ‘debt’ that never diminishes. Yet in the US, it’s not the pimps or johns who get arrested when the cops show up – it’s the girls; and instead of helping them escape slavery, the system makes their lives even worse.

“But in Los Angeles County, Judge Catherine Pratt has set up a special juvenile court to help victims of sex trafficking.

During the last few years, Pratt has been consumed by her work helping young victims of sex trafficking get treated as just that: victims. She says it’s been a tough battle because the justice system treats anyone who sells sex as a criminal — even a child.

In normal juvenile courts, young women who are picked up for prostitution don’t get counseling and other services — they get punished. Girls can be sentenced to juvenile detention or forced to testify against their exploiter…

Pratt remembers one case that made her believe the system was broken. A young girl was asked to testify against her pimp, in a public adult court, in a case that involved her being drugged into unconsciousness. She was asked by the district attorney to review a tape of the incident, which she had never seen, and identify the defendants in the court.”

I cannot even.

In a desperate search for an upside, thank goodness awareness of this crisis is beginning to gain traction, and people like Judge Catherine Pratt are working to find ways to enact some desperately needed change.