When Doing Good Becomes Doing Bad

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Janice G. Raymond.

Oxfam wasn’t the only nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Haiti where the so-called protectors turned into predators. After the 2010 earthquake, thousands of foreign aid workers arrived in the country. In Port-au-Prince, women on the streets reported that foreigners would give them more than five times the price a local would pay for sex.

Recent revelations of sexual abuse implicating specific NGOs and other agencies that provide relief to some of the world’s most vulnerable people are more widespread than initially reported. The most-publicized depredation involves the former Oxfam country director in Haiti, Belgian Roland van Hauwermeiren, who acknowledged paying for sexual encounters with Haitian earthquake survivors in a villa at odds with a disaster-ridden landscape.  

Taina Bien-Aimé, director of the international Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) and a first-generation Haitian-American and colleague, told me, “To understand the scandal of sexual abuse in Haiti is to understand the country’s history of debilitating colonialism. The history of Haiti for the majority of Haitian women and girls is also an historical arc of sexual violence and harassment at the hands of foreign military men, NGO workers, U.N. personnel and others.”

Haiti has been ravaged by rapacious nations, initially enslaved under French domination combined with a concomitant U.S. economic blockade. Later, in 1915, the U.S. Marines invaded the country and, many say, have never left.

In more recent times, the sexual exploitation of women in Haiti has been carried out by countless waves of U.N. peacekeepers entrusted with helping the country withstand internal conflicts and natural disasters. From 1990 to the present, at least nine United Nations aid operations were assembled to support the people of Haiti. The acronyms multiply: ONUVEH, MICIVIH, MINUHA, MANUH, MITNUH, MIPONUH, MICAH, MINUSTAH, and finally MINUJUSTH. All variously spell out missions intended to assist, stabilize, verify elections, aid in transition, establish a civilian police and build a justice system in the country.

A 2017 U.N. report found that sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti was pervasive over a period of seven years. The record of sexual exploitation during the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is the longest—a decade of rape, sexual assault and prostituting that left a legacy of what are called MINUSTAH babies in a country where 59 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and almost 25 percent exist in abject poverty.

Haiti, the first country in the Western Hemisphere and the first black nation to abolish slavery, has found itself at the epicenter of a tsunami of sexual slavery that struck Haitian women and has continued for years. Slavery is a fortissimo word for this large-scale sexual exploitation of women and children, what some would prefer to mute as “survival sex.” But if you are desperate for money or medicine, or you need to feed hungry children by providing sex in exchange for bread, milk or food coupons, your survival is your servitude.

In addition to Oxfam, recent revelations of NGO sexual exploitation have involved the larger corporate-style organizations, including Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). These organizations are flush with funds and led by high-salaried directors.

Some NGOs have enacted policies on prostitution that provide an enabling environment for the sexual exploitation that takes place both within their organizations and on country missions. Amnesty International’s prostitution policy  transforms prostitution into “sex work” by arguing that decriminalization of not only prostituted women but also of pimps and buyers is the best way of protecting women. Ken Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, cheered on Amnesty’s proposal as a praiseworthy poverty program for underprivileged women when he tweeted, “Why deny poor women the option of voluntary sex work?”—a question reminiscent of the chorus of johns who justify their sexual exploitation by transforming it into a welfare system for the women they abuse.

I contacted Oxfam to inquire whether the organization has a policy prohibiting staff from buying “sexual services.” Media have reported that organizational guidance issued in 2006 stated that Oxfam “did not ban the use of prostitutes, but we strongly discourage it. We don’t ban it because we cannot infringe on people’s liberties.” When I asked Tricia O’Rourke, head of news at Oxfam Great Britain, about Oxfam’s 2017 policy, she responded, “Our code of conduct now states that staff cannot ‘exchange money, offers of employment, employment, goods or services for sex or sexual favors.’ The previous code prohibited sex with people in direct receipt of aid—we admit it was wrong not to explicitly prohibit staff from engaging in any kind of transactional sexual behavior and deeply regret this.”

In February, Oxfam’s chief executive, Mark Goldring, was called to account for why Oxfam’s sexual abuse of Haitian women was not disclosed to the U.K. government, its primary funder. The Daily Telegraph reported that Goldring was “expected to claim that Oxfam had not informed ministers of the allegations in 2011 because it believed that staff accused of paying prostitutes were not guilty of exchanging ‘sex for aid’.” It appears that the Oxfam executive made a distinction between using women in prostitution (OK) and trading “sex for aid” (not OK), and in doing so, at that point in time, was ignorant of the organization’s 2017 revised code of conduct.

After the Oxfam scandal, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced it had “dealt with” 24 cases of sexual harassment and abuse in 2017, all involving field staff and almost all in mission countries. Nineteen people were dismissed from the organization. When I inquired about its current policy on sexual harassment and abuse, MSF responded that it has a no-tolerance policy that applies to minors and adults. Seeming to contradict the policy, MSF also added, “there is no one global code of conduct for all MSF offices and missions,” although each of its 21 different sections shares the same “binding commitment and vision.”

When asked whether it prohibits its personnel from purchasing “sexual services,” MSF told me, “There is current discussion within MSF to reinforce our policy on sexual exploitation, by explicitly addressing the specific issue of buying services from sex workers, in guidance to all staff.” Yet when asked whether it takes any position on Amnesty International’s policy of full decriminalization of the sex industry, MSF pointed me to its teams in South Africa who, in a response to the South African Law Reform Commission’s report on prostitution, condemned the report for not supporting decriminalization of the sex industry. Instead, MSF South Africa “supports the decriminalization of sex work” and stands “in solidarity” with pro-sex trade groups such as SWEAT and the Sisonke Sex Worker Movement. The organization makes no mention of groups that oppose decriminalization of the sex industry in South Africa, such as Masimanyane or Dignity, both representing survivors of prostitution.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is also on the roster of big corporate NGO abusers. ICRC director Yves Daccord has acknowledged that 21 staffers violated the organization’s policy by paying for “sexual services.” No details of where the sexual exploitation took place were released.

To its credit, the ICRC has long included in its code of conduct an explicit proscription against staffers purchasing “sexual services.” Daccord affirmed that “the ban applies worldwide and at all times, including in locations where prostitution is legal, as the ICRC believes that staff paying for sex is incompatible with the values and mission of the organization.” The ICRC’s policy is contractually binding. Daccord has contacted other NGOs with the goal of preventing offenders from being shifted from one agency to another, a common NGO practice.

And then there was the annual men-only charity benefit in Britain sponsored by the corporate businessmen of the Presidents Club, who for years allowed powerful titans of business, politics, finance, media, entertainment and government to prey on young women at the event. In January, the club hired 130 “hostesses”—who were ordered to wear skimpy, body-clinging, black outfits with matching underwear and high heels—to provide “services” to the male guests. Procured from the Artista agency, the women were told to make men happy. During the event, Artista also showed videos of women dancing in their underwear.

Paraded in at the start of the evening, hostesses were made to smile and strut across the stage for men’s gaze before walking to their assigned tables as the men whistled, cheered and clapped. According to one hostess, certain women wore soaring red heels or red belts so they could be identified as available for “extra duties,” i.e., for sex. As the event went on, alcohol and drugs flowed freely, and the sexual demands became more forceful. One shocked businessman said, “It’s a cesspit … it’s just an upper-class whorehouse.”

At the event and especially at the after-party, where the hostesses were required to stay until 2 a.m., they were groped and propositioned. The harassment included being fondled repeatedly, pulled onto men’s laps, asked to remove their underwear, and invited to men’s rooms in the hotel. Men exposed themselves and asked women if they were “prostitutes.” Caroline Dandridge, the founder of Artista, told the women, to just tell the men, “You’re a naughty boy.” The benefit auctioned off nights at a strip club and a course of plastic surgery that invited men to “add spice to your wife.”

The benefit was not merely an event that got out of hand, with a few rogue men behaving badly. It was deliberately designed to prey on young women and allow the male attendees sex on demand. Apparently, the club was able to mask its misdeeds for 33 years because it raised millions of pounds to aid those in need. The women were made to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Is it surprising that NGO executives and staffers are acting like the corporate businessmen at a Presidents Club benefit? Some, like Goldring at Oxfam, explain their organization’s sexual abuse based on a distinction between “sex for aid” and prostitution. Commentators such as Suzanne Moore, writing in The Guardian, appear to make this same distinction. She claims that Oxfam’s abuse of vulnerable women, while it is “vile exploitation,” is not prostitution because “prostitution implies choice and consent. However, it is not clear how any choice was made, in the devastating aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.”

Minus an earthquake, what does it take to understand that it is not clear how any choice is made for the majority of women in prostitution?

The privileged male abusers of Haitian women are not much different from the privileged male abusers who prowl the streets of major cities in the United States looking “to score,” or who gratify themselves in the legal brothels of Germany, the Netherlands or Nevada. The women they exploit are mostly women whose alleged choice and consent is driven by family breakdown, past and present sexual abuse, poverty, substance abuse and/or a predatory recruiter or pimp who smooths the way–no choice at all, really.

Policies legalizing or decriminalizing the sex industry seem based on a sliding scale that makes distinctions between “especially vulnerable women” and “not-so-vulnerable women.” Should we distinguish between “especially vulnerable women” on the streets of Haiti who swap sex for necessities and those who allegedly are “not so vulnerable” because they provide sex for money in Haiti’s sex clubs and bars? Or is the sliding scale more accurate if we acknowledge that all women who resort to prostitution in Haiti are “especially vulnerable” but not women in European or U.S. sex venues because the latter have more “choice?”

Amnesty International’s prostitution policy has further confused general NGO policy on prostitution by giving prostitution users permission to abuse women, rationalizing that decriminalization of the sex industry benefits women and allegedly preserves their right to prostitute. But whose rights are really being protected here? Amnesty’s policy provides validation for men who would abuse vulnerable women and—like other NGO perpetrators and the corporate abusers of the Presidents Club—call it charity, protection or economic welfare.

There have been many protests in the wake of these NGO scandals. On International Women’s Day, women aid workers published an open letter to senior managers, CEOs and board members of humanitarian and development organizations, demanding reform of the corporate NGO culture that permits sexual harassment and exploitation. The #MeToo movement has also removed impunity from many high-flying and wealthy sexual abusers prominent in Hollywood, the media and women’s sports.

Much has been said about the need to change the culture of organizational sexual abuse—a culture that in large measure is built on the culture of prostitution. Prostitution has been much in the background of the #MeToo movement but much in the foreground of many men’s lives. We need to acknowledge how prostitution and the sex industry are major propellants of the sexual abuse endured by women in everyday life.

Prostitution is the arena in which sexual harassment and abuse are normalized and repeated in nearly every sexual encounter—where sexual abuse is justified because she allegedly consents to it, and he pays for it. Prostituted women experience daily the sexual sadism aimed at women in the entertainment media and the violent acts depicted in gonzo porn—the most debasing genre of pornography that dominates the pornography market. Media sexual sadism and pornography have also been instrumental in desensitizing men to the “regular” sexual abuse they inflict on many women outside of prostitution, abuse for which the #MeToo movement has made men accountable.

Pimp culture has invaded our language, making it hip to use the word. Billboards advertising “pimp smooth” beer, marketers who “pimp” their products and a TV show called “pimp my ride” all pass, especially in youth circles, for something cool. One need not understand the multiple meanings this word conveys in different contexts to know that using that term ignores the actual consequences that pimping inflicts on prostituted women and girls.

I asked prostitution survivor Autumn Burris, director of Survivors for Solutions, about the connections between the sexual exploitation reported by women in the #MeToo movement and the sexual abuse of prostitution. In what has now become a legendary tweet, she responded that prostitution is “#MeToo on steroids.” When asked about her tweet, Burris explained that prostituted women are subjected “to hourly sexual harassment, rape, unwanted advances/penetration and aggressive and violent behavior by white, privileged men sexually commodifying our bodies.”

How can we change the NGO culture of sexual abuse and assault when certain human rights organizations have institutionalized pimping and buying a woman’s body for sex as basic freedoms to protect? How can we change the general culture of sexual abuse and assault if those whose very mission is to do good are doing bad?

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Sexual Harassment Rampant in Science, New Report Reveals

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Ilana Novick.

A new report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) reveals that half of women studying and working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) positions at American universities have been subject to sexual harassment. And, as STAT, an online journal of biotech, pharma and life sciences, reports, “there’s no evidence that current policies are significantly helping to stem the issue.”

Researchers spent two years surveying female students and faculty who were the targets of sexual harassment, compiling data from women at the University of Texas and Pennsylvania State University school systems, representing 10,000 undergraduates, graduate students and female faculty.

As The Washington Post observed, “Between 20 percent and 50 percent of female students in science, engineering and medicine, and more than 50 percent of faculty, said they had experienced harassment.”

Researchers also found that such harassment was more common for engineering and medical students than it was for students in non-science-oriented fields.

STAT notes how the results of this treatment impacted respondents’ personal and professional lives:

Victims interviewed for the report said they had skipped professional meetings and social situations, dropped out of research projects, and left jobs, just to avoid harassment. They described being mortified, devastated, and outraged in some cases. Many didn’t formally report their harassment, often for fear of retaliation. And some who did said the drawn-out proceedings drained them of precious time and energy to do their work.

Some scientists welcomed the reports’ findings. Heidi Lockwood, a professor of philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University, told The Post that the 300-page report is “a spectacular and encyclopedic piece of research and writing, and will no doubt serve as the touchstone for research, policy and advocacy in this area for years to come.”

Others, while grateful for quantitative data to back up their lived experience, questioned whether NASEM was willing to reckon with its own history of harassment accusations. Inder Verma, formerly a cancer biologist at the Salk Institute and editor in chief of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, resigned from both positions in the last few weeks following sexual harassment allegations.

Geoff Marcy, another NASEM member, resigned from his position at the University of California at Berkeley following a 2015 Buzzfeed article that revealed the university investigated student claims of harassment and found that Marcy had violated the school’s conduct policies.

But NASEM has not revoked Verma or Marcy’s memberships. As BethAnn McLaughlin, an assistant professor of neurology at Vanderbilt University, told The Post, the lack of action “certainly undermines the credibility of the National Academy to implement meaningful change.”

Still, the report offers recommendations for moving forward. They include hiring more women and people of color, especially in leadership positions; creating stronger anti-sexual harassment policies and being more transparent about them; providing more support services to victims of sexual harassment; and offering stricter enforcement of federal anti-discrimination policies such as Title VII.

Truthdig is running a reader-funded project to document the Poor People’s Campaign. Please help us by making a donation.

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1st Lawmaker Expelled Since #MeToo Seeks Office in Arizona

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Melissa Daniels / The Associated Press.

A former Arizona lawmaker who became the first kicked out of a state Legislature since the #MeToo movement began because of a lengthy pattern of sexual misconduct is running for office again.

Don Shooter, a Republican expelled from the Arizona House in February, said he filed around 900 signatures Wednesday to seek the GOP nomination for a state Senate seat in the same southern Arizona district he used to serve.

He wouldn’t comment on the circumstances surrounding his expulsion, which came as lawmakers of both parties faced a national reckoning over sexual misconduct that began last fall.

Politicians accused of impropriety have resigned, been stripped of leadership posts and faced other repercussions. A Democratic state representative in Colorado also was expelled this year.

Sitting in the lobby of the Arizona secretary of state’s office waiting to file his signatures, Shooter said “Let’s dance.”

He said he wants to talk about policy issues, such as the water needs of the agricultural industry and public education. Arizona teachers launched an unprecedented statewide strike this year over a lack of education funding.

“That’s the only thing I miss about being away from here, was the ability to solve problems,” Shooter said.

Shooter was elected to the Senate in 2010 and moved to the House in 2017. The lawmaker was known as a politically incorrect jokester who threw booze-fueled parties in his office on the last day of legislative sessions.

A female lawmaker, Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, accused him in November of propositioning her for sex and repeatedly commenting on her breasts. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard ordered an investigation after Shooter accused Ugenti-Rita of having an inappropriate relationship with a staffer, but she was cleared.

Other women soon came forward to accuse Shooter of inappropriate sexual comments or actions.

Shooter eventually apologized for what he called his “jarring, insensitive and demeaning” comments but argued that he never sought to touch anyone or have a sexual relationship with them.

An investigative report released prior to his expulsion found he engaged in “repeated pervasive conduct (that) created a hostile work environment for his colleagues and those with business before the Legislature.”

Shooter filed a $1.3 million claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, in April alleging that the governor’s office targeted him because he tried to expose widespread fraud in the state procurement system. It also accused Mesnard of changing House rules on harassment to remove Shooter from his committee chairmanship and ultimately to force the expulsion vote.

To get on the November ballot, Shooter will have to win the GOP primary. Incumbent state Sen. Sine Kerr, a dairy farmer who was appointed to fill the seat, has filed signatures along with Brent Backus, a conservative who owns a consulting business.

Democrat Michelle Harris, who served in the Air Force for 21 years, also is running for the seat.

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1st Lawmaker Expelled Since #MeToo Seeks Office in Arizona

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Melissa Daniels / The Associated Press.

A former Arizona lawmaker who became the first kicked out of a state Legislature since the #MeToo movement began because of a lengthy pattern of sexual misconduct is running for office again.

Don Shooter, a Republican expelled from the Arizona House in February, said he filed around 900 signatures Wednesday to seek the GOP nomination for a state Senate seat in the same southern Arizona district he used to serve.

He wouldn’t comment on the circumstances surrounding his expulsion, which came as lawmakers of both parties faced a national reckoning over sexual misconduct that began last fall.

Politicians accused of impropriety have resigned, been stripped of leadership posts and faced other repercussions. A Democratic state representative in Colorado also was expelled this year.

Sitting in the lobby of the Arizona secretary of state’s office waiting to file his signatures, Shooter said “Let’s dance.”

He said he wants to talk about policy issues, such as the water needs of the agricultural industry and public education. Arizona teachers launched an unprecedented statewide strike this year over a lack of education funding.

“That’s the only thing I miss about being away from here, was the ability to solve problems,” Shooter said.

Shooter was elected to the Senate in 2010 and moved to the House in 2017. The lawmaker was known as a politically incorrect jokester who threw booze-fueled parties in his office on the last day of legislative sessions.

A female lawmaker, Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, accused him in November of propositioning her for sex and repeatedly commenting on her breasts. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard ordered an investigation after Shooter accused Ugenti-Rita of having an inappropriate relationship with a staffer, but she was cleared.

Other women soon came forward to accuse Shooter of inappropriate sexual comments or actions.

Shooter eventually apologized for what he called his “jarring, insensitive and demeaning” comments but argued that he never sought to touch anyone or have a sexual relationship with them.

An investigative report released prior to his expulsion found he engaged in “repeated pervasive conduct (that) created a hostile work environment for his colleagues and those with business before the Legislature.”

Shooter filed a $1.3 million claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, in April alleging that the governor’s office targeted him because he tried to expose widespread fraud in the state procurement system. It also accused Mesnard of changing House rules on harassment to remove Shooter from his committee chairmanship and ultimately to force the expulsion vote.

To get on the November ballot, Shooter will have to win the GOP primary. Incumbent state Sen. Sine Kerr, a dairy farmer who was appointed to fill the seat, has filed signatures along with Brent Backus, a conservative who owns a consulting business.

Democrat Michelle Harris, who served in the Air Force for 21 years, also is running for the seat.

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Harvey Weinstein Indicted in Sex Case

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by The Associated Press.

NEW YORK — Harvey Weinstein was indicted Wednesday on rape and criminal sex act charges, furthering the first criminal case to arise from a slate of sexual misconduct allegations against the former movie mogul.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said the indictment brings Weinstein “another step closer to accountability” for alleged attacks on two women in New York.

Weinstein’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said he would “vigorously defend” against the indictment and ask a court to dismiss it. He called the allegations “unsupported” and reiterated that Weinstein strongly denies them.

The indictment came hours after Weinstein’s lawyer said the film producer would decline to testify before the grand jury because there wasn’t enough time to prepare him and “political pressure” made an indictment unavoidable.

“Regardless of how compelling Mr. Weinstein’s personal testimony might be, an indictment was inevitable due to the unfair political pressure being placed on Cy Vance to secure a conviction of Mr. Weinstein,” the statement said.

Weinstein, 66, learned of the specific charges and the accusers’ identities only after turning himself in Friday, according to his lawyers. Brafman said that with a deadline set for Wednesday afternoon for Weinstein to testify or not, prosecutors denied his request for more time.

Vance said the Weinstein camp’s “recent assault on the integrity of the survivors and the legal process is predictable.”

“We are confident that when the jury hears the evidence, it will reject these attacks out of hand,” Vance said in a statement.

Weinstein was charged Friday with raping one woman and committing a criminal sex act by compelling oral sex from another. A grand jury continued hearing evidence in the case, as it had been doing for weeks.

Defendants have the right to testify in a grand jury’s secret proceedings but often don’t, for various reasons.

Freed on $1 million bail and electronic monitoring, he is due back in court July 30, though that date may now be moved up in light of the indictment.

Beyond the two women involved in the case, dozens more women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to assault in various locales.

He has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex, and Brafman said Tuesday that Weinstein was “confident he’s going to clear his name” in the New York prosecution.

Brafman called the rape allegation “absurd,” saying that the accuser and Weinstein had a decade-long, consensual sexual relationship that began before and continued after the alleged 2013 attack.

The woman, who hasn’t been identified publicly, told investigators that Weinstein confined her in a hotel room and raped her.

The other accuser in the case, former actress Lucia Evans, has gone public with her account of Weinstein forcing her to perform oral sex at his office in 2004. The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assaults unless they come forward publicly.

Vance, a Democrat, came under public pressure from women’s groups to prosecute Weinstein after declining to do so in 2015, when an Italian model went to police to say Weinstein had groped her during a meeting.

Police set up a sting in which the woman recorded herself confronting Weinstein and him apologizing for his conduct. But Vance decided there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, ordered the state attorney general to investigate how Vance handled that matter.

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Actor Morgan Freeman Accused of Sexual Harassment

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Anita Salzberg.

In an interaction caught on camera in 2015, CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas was interviewing actor Morgan Freeman at a press junket for his movie “Going in Style” when, in front a crowded room that included his co-stars, he grabbed her hand, looked her up and down, and commented, regarding her pregnancy, that “I wish I was there.” He also said she looked “ripe,” though this was not recorded.

These comments sparked a CNN investigation in which Freeman becomes the latest Hollywood actor to be accused of sexual misconduct, including unwanted touching and sexual comments.

One former production assistant told CNN that Freeman subjected her “to unwanted touching and comments about her figure and clothing on a near-daily basis.” She said, “Freeman would rest his hand on her lower back or rub her lower back.” It was reported that he also continually tried to lift her skirt.

Another former production staffer constantly dodged comments on her body. “He did comment on our bodies,” she told CNN. “We knew that if he was coming by … not to wear any top that would show our breasts, not to wear anything that would show our bottoms, meaning not wearing clothes that [were] fitted.”

The behavior was consistent across movie sets, and, CNN notes, within the offices of Revelations Entertainment, Freeman’s production company, as described by seven former employees. In total, sixteen people spoke to CNN, eight of whom had been victims of harassment; the other eight had witnessed or heard about the harassment.

They didn’t report it until now because, as most said, “they feared for their jobs” and even though, as CNN notes, “the allegations against Freeman are not about things that happened in private; they are about things that allegedly happened in public, in front of witnesses—even in front of cameras.”

Freeman released an apology, obtained by Variety, saying he was sorry and “anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy.”

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#MeToo Hits the Books: Writer Junot Díaz Accused of Sexual Harassment

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by By Ilana Novick.

Junot Díaz has won both critical and commercial success with his lyrical prose, which often unflinchingly confronts subject matter such as intergenerational trauma, immigration, grief and complicated relationships. Now, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is back in the spotlight—not for his work, but for his alleged long history of sexual harassment.

On Thursday, writer Zinzi Clemons tweeted: “As a grad student, I invited Junot Díaz to speak to a workshop on issues of representation in literature. I was an unknown wide-eyed 26 yo, and he used it as an opportunity to corner and forcibly kiss me. I’m far from the only one he’s done this 2, I refuse to be silent anymore.”

Díaz had recently published a widely lauded essay in The New Yorker, opening up in the April 16 piece about his own experiences with childhood trauma—specifically, episodes of sexual abuse—and how they impacted his relationships with women. Clemons and others have suggested it was an attempt to preempt accusations of sexual harassment against him.

Shortly after Clemons took to Twitter, another female writer, Carmen Maria Machado, tweeted about her experience with Diaz at a book signing at which she asked Diaz about his patterns of writing male characters who frequently cheat on, and otherwise abuse, their partners.

Machado noted: “He asked me to back up my claim with evidence. I cited several passages from the book in front of me. He raised his voice, paced, implied I was a prude who didn’t know how to read or draw reasonable conclusions from text.” She concluded, “Junot Díaz is a widely lauded, utterly beloved misogynist.  . . . His books are regressive and sexist. He has treated women horrifically in every way possible. And the #MeToo stories are just starting.”

Monica Byrne, the third writer to accuse Diaz of harassment, felt inspired to compose her own Facebook post after seeing Clemons’ tweet. And she told New York magazine: “It’s always struck me how much the Establishment has protected him. … These stories are everywhere, it’s an open secret in the literary Establishment. And everybody is scared to talk about it.”

Díaz did not respond directly to Clemons, Machado or Byrne’s accusations, but he responded through his agent, Nicole Aragi, in a statement to The New York Times. “I take responsibility for my past,” Díaz said in the statement. “That is the reason I made the decision to tell the truth of my rape and its damaging aftermath. This conversation is important and must continue. I am listening to and learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement. We must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries.”

Neither Díaz’ publisher, Riverhead Books, nor MIT, where he is a professor, responded to The Times’ requests for comment.

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The Truth About the Cosby Verdict: Women Are Not Believed

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Julian Vigo.

Moments after Bill Cosby was convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand at his Pennsylvania mansion in 2004, Gloria Allred, the lawyer who represented her and many of Bill Cosby accusers, stood before the press and said, “We are so happy that finally we can say, women are believed—and not only in a hashtag #MeToo, but also in a court of law.”

Five women besides Constand testified for the prosecution, relating how Cosby also had drugged and raped them, but this retrial took place after a mistrial and after a total of 60 women came forward with accusations of rape against Cosby. Is this a victory for women as Allred contends?

I don’t think this outcome is any sort of victory. If anything, this verdict is an anomaly, serving as a token judgment for women. It does not change all the years of previous injustices in the legal system or the norm of how rape is handled in contemporary jurisprudence, much less the pervasive reality of rape today. Will women now be believed when it comes to rape? The reality is, most things uttered by women—stereotyped as the “weaker sex”—are not believed. And rape is just one of many expressions of structural oppression to which women are subjugated.

Don’t be surprised if media reports question whether the judgment was racist, suggesting that the #MeToo movement sealed Cosby’s fate (oh look, I spoke too soon), or that Constand was a “con artist” who used a false claim of rape to capitalize even more on the $3.38 million settlement she made with Cosby in 2005 after prosecutors refused to charge him with sexual assault.

In these examples alone, we see the media’s archetypes of women that frame our lives and act as subtitles to the words rape victims speak: the greedy manipulator, the vengeful subject who extorts money from her alleged rapist and then seeks to make him suffer again, the woman who cannot tell the truth about sex because she is angry, jilted, and/or just plain old crazy. These are not new archetypes. They are the typical, recycled objects of old that still function as the go-to response for woman haters the world over.

We know the statistics for how the criminal justice system reacts to rape accusations: Out of 1,000 rapes, 310 cases are reported to the police, 57 of these result in arrests, 11 are referred to prosecutors, 7 lead to a felony conviction, and only 6 rapists will be incarcerated. Out of 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free. Comparing these figures to robbery, the conviction rate in 1,000 robberies is 22 and the incarceration rate is 20. For assault and battery, the conviction rate is double that of robbery.

When men are victims of crime, they are not asked about what they were wearing, if they might have led on the assailant, or if they might have sent “mixed signals” about their desire to be beaten up or not.

Yet in the 21st century, females still are beholden to a system that treats them as out of touch with their intellectual faculties and unable to speak clearly and truthfully.

This is what feminists refer to when they say “rape culture.” Men do not fear that we will lie about being raped. They fear we will tell the truth. So the myth of the lying, extorting, broken-hearted, manipulative female gets airtime, over and over again. The misogyny at the heart of the Cosby legal case relies upon one central and paradoxical ingredient regarding Constand’s credibility: Women are not believed.

Don’t believe me? Try this experiment: Enter into Google News’ search engine two words-man attacked and in a separate window do the same with woman raped. Now open up a half-dozen articles from each of your search results and read them. You will find that in most media stories involving women who are sexually assaulted a permutation of the word “alleged” appears throughout the story: she was allegedly raped, the alleged incident, and her alleged attacker.

Strangely enough, when men are victims of crime, all doubts about the men’s veracity vanish.

And this experiment extends far beyond Google into all levels of our society and political structures. They replicate the confirmation of men’s experience of any sort of violence and women’s fragile relationship with reality when they report sexual violence. Viewed from another planet, one would almost think that women speaking out about sexual assault is the act of terror here and not the violence of a serial rapist.

But hey, Cosby is appealing the verdict, so why not make the most of his time at The Meadows, a rehab center in Arizona? Cosby will be in good company with fellow serial rapist Harvey Weinstein, who sets the bar a bit higher than Cosby with more than 80 women accusing him of sexual harassment or sexual assault. And this will do wonders for Kevin Spacey, who is small change compared to these two sexual predators as he is being investigated for “unwanted sexual advances” and sexual assault by over 30 men. But since Spacey’s accusers are male, their accusations are taken far more seriously since men are to be believed, right? And who needs to compare sexual harassment and rape against “unwanted sexual advances”? That would be like analyzing details such as the fact that “unwanted sexual advances” has pretty much nothing to do with rape or sexual harassment. But who’s counting?

In awaiting his appeal, Cosby and his fellow predators can pass their time at The Meadows engaging in any number of activities from horseback riding, yoga, tai chi, acupuncture and meditation while they allegedly deal with their “problem.” Or as Tracey Ullman’s “Some Sort of Therapy Centre” skit communicates: “Our team of presumably therapists is here to help you tell the world, ‘It’s OK, I’m dealing with this myself, no need for the police.’ It’s the perfect place to relax, unwind and avoid facing the consequences of your actions.”

Speaking out about sexual assault and moving through trauma instead of harboring it as a unique space of anger has power. Cosby’s victims show the potential power of speech. But the realist in me knows that this verdict is a one-off performance of the law, especially in an era where reality is never real enough for some who still insist upon Cosby’s innocence. To that point, Rose McGowan’s tweet for Cosby fans was most fitting: “I’m sorry if you loved a lie.”

The Cosby verdict proves the imbalance of truth and how normal it is for females to be disbelieved: It took 60 women to be raped for one to be believed.

For all of the media scrutiny about the ‪#MeToo movement sealing Cosby’s fate, one anomaly of justice surprised millions of people more than 50 years of serial rape. Cosby was found guilty not because one woman came forward. He was found guilty because 60 did. All but one were denied due process. Constand received justice. The rest did not.

What does the future of women’s rights look like from here? A world where only 59 rape victims are needed for a guilty verdict? Why not aim for two dozen? That sounds better, right?

Let’s not go crazy and hope that one woman’s voice might matter where jurisprudence recognizes her human right to not be raped in the first place.

Allegedly.

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The Trouble With Nondisclosure Agreements

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Paul Morantz.

In a famous American folk tale, a naive young man suffers from a whopping case of buyer’s remorse after selling his soul to the devil. He is saved by a stirring speech from the great lawyer and orator, Daniel Webster, which sways a stacked jury of spirits and frees him from Beelzebub’s clutches.

These days, a tsunami of lawsuits resulting from deals made with a host of demons has clogged our courts and prompted many judges to push for settlement agreements just to keep the system afloat. The public interest is best served, they reason, by getting civil disputes resolved without the enormous time and expense of lengthy trials.

But saving time and money doesn’t always serve the cause of justice. In this rush to judgment, the courts end up rewarding defendants—often corporations accused of everything from product safety violations to environmental disasters—while punishing many plaintiffs who have suffered extensive damages from those crimes, because these settlements are often structured in ways that enable the wrongdoer to keep doing wrong. With the system thus tilted to the rich and powerful, it’s doubtful that even Daniel Webster could rescue victims from the misdeeds of modern-day devils.

The problem isn’t the negotiated settlements. It’s the onerous caveats attached to them known as nondisclosure agreements (NDAs), or more commonly, gag orders. These orders prevent those who accept money in a settlement from disclosing anything negative about the defendants.

If this sounds familiar to you, that means you’re up on the latest Donald J. Trump scandals. To wit: Stormy Daniels, an adult film star, allegedly had an affair with Trump in 2006. When she started shopping the story around to magazines prior to the 2016 election, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid her $130,000 to clam up about it. Daniels now wants to break the nondisclosure agreement, which includes hefty fines for violations. Trump denies the affair and any knowledge of the payment. He insists he didn’t reimburse his lawyer. If anything, the Trump-Daniels brouhaha has significance if, for instance, the payment to Daniels could be construed as an illegal, campaign-related expense. Many argue that the body politic has a right to know about the sins of the president, in order to judge his fitness for office. To me, those are minor considerations in evaluating the long-term impact of nondisclosure agreements.

And to be clear, I’m not advocating the elimination of gag orders. In some cases, they are appropriate and necessary. Legitimate trade secrets must be protected, and embarrassing information can be sealed if there are no public concerns. I even favor sealing divorce settlements, absent any showing of good cause why the information should be made public. Most divorces are private matters. Even heated disputes rarely involve things the public needs to know, and their disclosure could have a negative impact on the couple’s children.

But in many cases, nondisclosure agreements inhibit the public’s First Amendment right to speak out on matters of public concern and the right of civil litigants to gain access to information from prior settlements that are directly related to their cases. In addition, the payments of huge damages in these settlements would warn the public and deter the offender from repeating the crime.

But if no one can reveal details of the settlement publicly, how can such beneficial social goals be accomplished? The ability to conceal these details from the public and potential future litigants has prompted many corporations, cults and self-help groups to seek out possible aggrieved parties—sometimes even if they haven’t yet filed a lawsuit—and offer them princely sums of money in exchange for their signatures on nondisclosure agreements. If the potential litigants had come to the offender and demanded payment for their silence, it would be considered blackmail. But ironically, the courts have blessed wrongdoers that seek out and pay potential plaintiffs in order to prevent them from ever revealing details of a settlement, speaking to the media or otherwise aiding potential litigants. It also keeps critical documents and other evidence away from the prying eyes of other litigants.

Often, the organization seeking to conceal its wrongdoing settles with the plaintiffs that have the most information or the best lawyers, thus making it more difficult for other litigants to pursue legal redress. These agreements don’t prevent potential witnesses from being deposed or testifying—that would be obstruction of justice. Advocates of settlement agreements argue that this limits the damage created by these agreements. But it does make testimony more difficult to obtain. To properly prepare for a trial, lawyers must review critical documents and interview witnesses privately. NDAs restrict their ability to do either.

Depositions, for example, cost thousands of dollars each and are made more difficult with the defendants’ legal eagles present and badgering witnesses, threatening to sue if they don’t remain silent. Of course, you can skip all that, but what lawyer would risk interrogating a witness whose likely testimony is unknown? Without access to the details of previous settlements, the cost and risks of preparing these cases skyrockets for plaintiffs whose resources are usually dwarfed by those of their adversaries.

Many courts aggressively push for out-of-court settlements in order to relieve the crushing backlog of cases. It’s an understandable goal. But by doing so, they are in effect saying that clearing cases is more important than giving plaintiffs a fair shot at justice, informing the public about dangerous situations or deterring criminal organizations from continuing to commit crimes. The courts are actively participating in cover-ups of criminal/immoral activity and hindering the pursuit of justice.

I also believe that fears of increasing caseloads are unwarranted. Few defendants on the verge of settlement will toss that aside just because the courts won’t allow them to add a gag order. And if violators’ feet are held to the proverbial fire, it should result in fewer lawsuits long-term. Think of the money that would save. A more restricted use of gag orders would serve the public better in the long-run.

Consider the case of a self-help guru and former protege of Est’s Werner Erhard who reached a settlement with a number of women he pressured to have sex with him. The women signed NDAs that prevented them from warning other women in the group. Those who weren’t party to the settlement couldn’t access documents filed with the court. How can we, as a society, tolerate a legal system that allows a sexual predator to continue hurting women by covering up his improper actions? What in the name of Harvey Weinstein is going on here?

In another case, a psychologist seduced many of his female patients, transgressions that resulted in the loss of his license. He settled a lawsuit with the women but obtained a gag order that prevented anyone from disclosing the amount of the settlement. Years later, as the pastor and principal of a private school, he was once again charged with abuse—with adults and children. Had the details of the first settlement been made public, might that have prevented the later abuse?

Ironically, even the courts have used gag orders to cover up bad behavior. On April 10, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye urged the Judicial Council to ban secret settlement agreements involving sexual harassment by judges. Apparently, the council doled out more than $600,000 of taxpayer money recently to investigate and settle three such complaints—and naturally, the settlements included nondisclosure agreements. “The public has a right to know how the judicial branch spends taxpayer funds,” the Chief Justice said. Alas, the Chief Justice is still falling short of justice, though new rules could change that.

Here, secrecy isn’t the only issue. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay damages for the intentional misdeeds of public officials. Hear that, Congress? More importantly, it is time to stop secret settlements when they relate to public safety or other public concerns. There has been some progress made in this direction. Some courts use a weighing tool to determine whether public interest outweighs the right to privacy. A Florida statute prohibits the concealment of public hazards in settlement agreements. California does not permit nonfinancial confidentiality of motor vehicle problems in its lemon law settlements. A bill is pending that would allow greater disclosure of the details of settlements in sex crime cases.

We need more. You can’t buy silence or suppress documents when doing so would harm the public interest. No confidentiality agreement should be permitted that would make the devil smile.

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Sexual harassment movement sparks start-ups

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by Megan Lange / Arizona Cat's Eye.

 

Infographic courtesy of League of Women in Government.

Social media brought the #MeToo movement to life, but the creation of start-ups combating sexual harassment in the workplace might be the final outcome.

Startups, such as AllVoices, provide anonymous reports and data to companies that could face sexual harassment in the workplace. By providing these anonymous reports, companies can address the problem before it’s too late. This could result in human resource training and policies to become more proactive when dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, by giving the reports to executive officials in advance.

Companies are now preparing for this issue, which used to be treated as a hush-hush situation. A survey conducted online in January of this year by the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment showed that 43 percent of men and 81 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault.

These startups believe that anonymously reporting incidents will eventually decrease the number of sexual harassment cases that surface.

According to a report by the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,sexual harassment from 2010 to 2016 was estimated to cost U.S. companies $669 million. This can be broken down into lawyer fees, insurance claims, lawsuits settlements, the physical and mental health of victims, and loss of work productivity for those involved.

According to the EEOC, Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is supposed to protect anyone who might retaliate against a person who complained or filed a charge of discrimination. But the estimated amount of cases occurring is still being based on underreported of incidents.

Large companies and institutions, such as the University of Arizona, are being evaluated on ways to handle these situations in a more proactive way.

“The university supports the ability for anonymity in its processes,” said Thomas McDonald, chief of staff and operations manager for UA Business Affairs and Human Resources, when asked about the possibility of implementing a program to combat sexual harassment such as AllVoices, a web platform that lets people anonymously report their experiences of sexual harassment at work.

Currently, the protocol for dealing with a sexual harassment case within the UA consists of several steps, as explained in the infographic below. The process relies on the victim or the witness of an incident to step forward.

“Members of the university community may contact the Office of Institutional Equity or the Dean of Students Office at any time to ask questions about discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or complaint-filing procedures and may provide information without disclosing their names. This provision does not relieve managers, supervisors, instructors, or advisors of their responsibility to promptly report under this policy.” according to the UA’s website.

University of Arizona’s incident report flow-chart featured on the OIE Process website.

However, when reporting an issue, the current protocol does not leave much room for anonymity in order to provide a solution according to the human resources policy website: “An individual who believes that he or she has been subjected to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation in violation of this policy should report the matter immediately as set forth below to obtain information about resolving concerns, including complaint-filing options and procedures, and to enable the University to take prompt remedial action.”

Startups like AllVoices and tEQuitable were both founded by women to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, and they may have found the right tactic to win the fight.

Claire Schmidt, founder of AllVoices // (Photo from New York Post)

AllVoices was started the summer before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements became national news according to founder Claire Schmidt. Schmidt said, “AllVoices is determined to give a platform to the 75 percent of workplace incidents that go underreported.”

“The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements also created a very opportune moment for AllVoices to have these conversations with companies and investors. Something that executives may not have been as open to discussing years ago has now become part of the national conversation” said Schmidt.

The company tEQuitable is similar to AllVoices, hoping to combat bias and sexual harassment in the workplace. Founded by Lisa Gelobter, their media network shares many articles about battling sexual harassment. The company’s website states the startup’s goal is to empower, quantify and improve workplace culture, also through an anonymous reporting platform.

According to tEQuitable’s website, “Employees use a private digital platform and confidential calls with trained professionals to get advice and an action plan that best fits their individual need.”

From their data, AllVoices can interpret, for CEO’s, the necessary next steps a company should take when dealing with these cases.

“By helping employees, by giving a voice to the many people who are not comfortable publicly disclosing what they saw or experienced. This will help HR and leadership identify issues and solve them proactively” said Schmidt.

The problem lies in the culture, and HR policies must figure out a way to make procedures reflect and change the culture that is afraid to talk about sexual harassment.

“We want to reach a point where everyone feels happy and secure in their workplace, and that starts fundamentally with transparency and trust,” said Schmidt.

Megan Lange is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at meganlange@email.arizona.edu.

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos.

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