Monthly Archives: June 2009

White House Appoints Lynn Rosenthal Advisor on Violence Against Women

Taking a definite step towards strong support of women’s issues, Vice President Joe Biden announced last week that Lynn Rosenthal has been appointed the new White House Advisor on Violence Against Women. The position will be an enormous help to women and women’s groups looking for change at the federal level on violence against women. The position is described in the White House press release:

In this new position, Ms. Rosenthal will serve as an advisor to the President and Vice President on domestic violence and sexual assault issues; be a liaison to the domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy community; coordinate with the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) on implementation of Violence Against Women Act programs; coordinate with the Department of Health and Human Services on implementation of Family Violence Prevention Act services (including the National Domestic Violence Hotline); coordinate with the State Department and USAID on global domestic violence initiatives; and drive the development new initiatives and policy aimed at combating domestic violence and sexual assault with advocacy groups and members of Congress.

Most recently, Ms. Rosenthal served as Executive Director of the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Other past positions include six years as the Executive Director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and director of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  Ms. Rosenthal has dedicated her life to helping the lives of battered women and children, and her work can only become more influential in her new position.

“Lynn Rosenthal has been a life-long advocate for women and she has been a real leader in developing effective policies to combat domestic violence,” said Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Engagement. “She will be a tremendous asset to the President, Vice President and the entire Administration as we continue the battle against domestic violence and sexual assault.”

We hope that Ms. Rosenthal will help the Obama Administration develop new policies and gain support for women who are victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Government

FDA Approves Generic Version of Plan B As Problems Remain for Young Women’s Access

Last week, the FDA approved the first generic emergency contraception pill, known as levonorgestrel. The drug will be available to women ages 17 and older beginning Aug. 24, 2009, when Plan B’s over-the-counter patent protection expires.

This news marks considerable progress in broadening  women’s access to affordable emergency contraception; even though the FDA said last April that it would allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B to women age 17 or younger, in reality,  women under 18 still do not have access to the drug. From MedPage Today:

…when the FDA said it would allow OTC sales of Plan B to 17 year-olds it meant that the FDA would allow the drugmaker — Duramed Pharmaceuticals of Cincinnati — to submit an application for OTC use by 17-year-olds.

As an FDA employee, [Siobhan DeLancey, who wrote the FDA press release announcing approval of generic Plan B] couldn’t say whether or not Duramed had submitted such an application, but she could say that no application for OTC sales to 17-year-olds has been approved.

Thus, the only way a 17-year-old can acquire the drug — whether brand name or generic — is with a prescription.

Watson Pharmaceuticals, the company who produces the generic levonorgestrel tablet, plans to market the drug under the name “Next Choice” and “launch the product shortly.”

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Filed under Contraception, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Utah Bill Would Give Students Option for Comprehensive Sex Education

A new bill proposed in the Utah House of Representatives would create two types of sex education, abstinence-only and comprehensive, and let parents choose which class their child would take.  The first class would advocate abstinence until marriage and talk about STIs while the second class would “emphasize abstinence but also offer facts including STD prevention and contraceptive options.”  Representative Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake, who proposed the bill, cited Utah’s quickly rising rate of STI infections among teens as a reason for its introduction, citing the nearly five hundred new cases of Chlamydia between 2005 and 2008 in Utah girls aged 15-19.

Abstinence only programs do not work for every student, as evidenced by a 2002 study done by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS), which showed that approximately 55% of teens surveyed ages 15-19 had engaged in some form of sexual activity.

In a state as traditionally conservative as Utah, offering comprehensive sex education in this format would be a huge improvement over current practice.  Currently, teachers need permission from students’ parents to discuss contraception during sex education.  And the threat of being fired can prevent teachers from giving full information.  This bill would permit teachers to discuss contraception in the comprehensive class without fear of termination.

This legislation would be a major step towards meeting the needs of students and parents and equipping students with the skills they need to make healthy decisions about their lives.

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Filed under Contraception, Politics

Teen Contraception Use Declining, Birth Rate Increases According to Study

Despite years of improved contraception use and declining pregnancy and birth rates amongst teens, a joint study (PDF) by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Guttmacher Institute reports that these trends may have stalled or, in some cases, reversed. Even though the study, published in the July issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that rates of teen sexual activity remained relatively unchanged from 2003 to 2007, teens’ contraceptive use declined by 10% during that time.  Correlating with this decrease, the study also found that the teen birth rate increased by 5% from 2005 to 2007.

These data suggest that contraceptive use was a key driver in changing teen pregnancy rates — with little significant change in sexual activity, except among black teens.  Improvements in contraceptive use in the 1990s and early 2000s were found primarily for condom use, nonuse, and use of withdrawal.  Pill use declined significantly among Hispanics and blacks, coincident with the increase in condom use.  Quadratic trends suggested a reversal in trends in condom use after 2003 – overall and among black teens.  Thus, declining contraceptive use may be the primary determinant of the 2006 increase in birth.

The study suggests that these trends may be linked to the abstinence-only sex education programs championed by former President George W. Bush. President Obama’s proposed budget for 2010 departs from this trend, favoring more comprehensive sex education programs.

Researchers also draw a link in declining public concern for sexually transmitted infections like HIV/AIDS as a contributing factor in decreased condom use. Shifts in the demographic composition of the teen population may also be linked to the increased birthrate, with more Latinas, who have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and birth, now being represented.

Although the results represent small changes in the rates of contraceptive use and pregnancy amongst teens, Laura Lindberg, one of the study’s authors, says that they nonetheless “raise concern about what the next few years will bring in this country.” In terms of public policy, the authors suggest looking to European approaches to reducing teen pregnancy. While the United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world, some European countries, such as the Netherlands, boast the some of the worlds’ lowest. The authors advise:

The U.S. might redirect its energy from persistently divisiveness political debates around sexuality education and abortion to support reinvigorated efforts to prevention of unplanned pregnancy by promoting the importance of consistent and effective contraception and protection against STIs.  A consensus among adults on how to promote health sexuality would benefit teens as they struggle with the perils and perplexities of emerging adolescent sexuality.

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Filed under Contraception

Cyber-stalking in the Internet (and Cell Phone, and GPS, and Digital Camera…) Age

In an age where optimism is hurriedly attaining an obsolete status amidst the ruins of the economy and the travesty of the health care system, technology—at least—provides a private escape into wonderment. On a daily basis, the accomplishments of technology supply a brief respite of awe at the capabilities of human advancement. Unfortunately, with all of the benefits, the perils slowly reveal themselves as well…

In the latest edition of the Domestic Violence Report, Joan Zorza, Esq. provides enlightening statistics on the prevalence of the latest phenomenon in stalking—cyberstalking. The latest study (PDF) done by the Supplemental Victimization Survey and Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women revealed shocking data about the general stalking practices, including the higher victimization of women between the ages of 18 and 24, as well as evidence of the disconcerting feelings resulting from the harassment. Zorza summarized that, “Over two-thirds of stalking victims reported feeling annoyed or angry, approximately half were anxious or concerned, over 40% were frightened, almost a quarter felt helpless, approximately 15% said they were depressed, and almost 15% reported feeling sick.”

But the most appalling statistics occurred when victims were asked about technology. Zorza explained, “Cyberstalking was a factor that more than a quarter of victims reported: 83% received unwanted e-mail messages and 35% received unwanted instant messaging. One in 13 victims knew that the stalker used electronic monitoring and of these, 46% used video or digital cameras, 42% used listening devices or bugs, and about a tenth used GPS technology to monitor them.”

And as technology progresses, stalking methods only follow suit. A recent article in the Buffalo News by Stephen T. Watson reveals the daunting means available to the cyber-age stalker. Not only is today’s abuser equipped with far superior modes of tracking, but he also holds the tools to further mask his own identity, whereabouts, and activities from victims or law-enforcement officials. Furthermore, new electronics are becoming cheaper and more accessible; no longer are these devices solely for police use. In the article, Marc Rotenberg of Electronic Privacy Center explained, “The problem with so-called stalking technology is that there’s very little that victims can do to identify or stop this covert tracking.”

Recently, the media has given credence to several cyberstalking cases. The Kansas City-Star has been following the case of a woman whose ex-boyfriend placed sexual ads with her contact information on the Internet, in addition to sending her numerous disturbing emails. In the Buffalo News article, Watson gives details concerning several different cases, including one in which a woman was murdered as a result of the perpetrator’s ability to buy information about her whereabouts and daily routine from a company that deals in selling what people would rather keep private.

One can only hope the technology the villains are using can work for the good guys too. Those released on parole can still be tracked via GPS, and websites that allow wary parents to discover child molesters living in their area pervade the internet. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be safe. For more information on cyber-stalking and prevention tips, go to http://www.feelsafeagain.org/cyberstalking.html.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Stalking

Girls like math too…

The term “gender gap” has become such an insurmountable cliché that even when unused, the phrase hangs loftily over any piece of news announcing the disparity of the sexes. Mentioned in reference to the unequal treatment of men and women in the workplace, at home, and on the athletic field, the phrase would be annoying if it weren’t so often true. In terms of mathematical aptitude, however, no gap exists.

In 2005, Larry Summers’ controversial comments about women’s lack of genetic predisposition towards math and science spurred a revolution of research into the alleged relationship. Caryl Rivers, at Women’s eNews, writes about the studies that have been done in this area. One, from the National Science Foundation, showed gender parity score-wise on standardized math tests. A National Assessment of Educational Progress had similar findings. If not inherent genetically, then the academic “gender gap” in the math and science fields must have other causes.

Rivers believes the answer lies in sociology. She explains that “drive, leadership ability, a talent for pleasing bosses, personality, and skill at political maneuvering” all have a role in creating the gender imbalance. With all of these elements in mind, it is worth considering if girls’ decisions about possible fields of study is at all influenced by society’s expectations about what they should be doing.

Debra Viadero, writing for Education Week, investigated similar studies. She sought information about girls’ actual desire to enter the fields. One study’s analysis of high school valedictorians across the country and their prospective college majors revealed a preponderance of boys leaning towards the math and sciences, and girls towards humanities and social sciences. What if the simplest explanation is actually the right one and, as Viadero speculates, “Women may just not want to pursue high-level careers in math and science?”

Many refuse to accept this rationalization. One possibility is that girls who do well in math do just as well in the humanities, thus broadening their career choices. Additionally, it seems women do not stay in these fields as long as men do even when they choose them, gravitating more towards a balance of work and family. Whatever the reason, the two articles suggest with abounding evidence that the reason for the “gap,” in this case, is not genetic. Just as many girls are in calculus class as boys, even if they aren’t teaching it later in life.

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Filed under Education, Equality, Girls

Title IX Lawsuit Pending in Florida

After passing a plan in April to cut the number of scheduled high school sporting events, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) will soon be facing a lawsuit on the grounds of Title IX violations and discrimination towards female athletes. In an article published in the St. Petersburg Times, Izzy Gould reports that a group by the name of Florida Parents for Athletic Equity (FPAE) has followed through on plans to file suit against the FHSAA after the two groups failed to reach a compromise last week.  A piece published by Ms. Magazine Online on Monday elaborates on the disproportionate effect the proposed cuts would have on female athletes:

In April, the FHSAA passed a resolution called Policy 6, which would cut varsity games by 20 percent and junior varsity games by 40 percent. Football and cheerleading schedules would be exempt from the reductions. The group Florida Parents for Athletic Equity is protesting the plan because female athletes would be disproportionately affected: 36,000 boys are on football teams while only 4,600 girls are on cheerleading squads in Florida.

Even though the FHSAA was working with the FPAE to reach an agreement over the policy, it had not presented a new plan by a mutually agreed upon deadline last week.

FPAE representative Nancy Hogshead-Makar was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel as writing in an e-mail to the Association, “we have exhausted our good faith attempt to obtain resolution of this matter.” Hogshead-Makar and the FPAE also asked for a temporary injunction on Tuesday so that schools could return to a full schedule of athletic events until more gender-equal policy is put into place.

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Filed under Equality, Girls, Sports, Title IX

Milwaukee Judge Invalidates Paid Sick Days for Victims of Domestic Violence

Last fall, almost 70 percent of Milwaukee voters approved an ordinance that would guarantee workers seven paid sick days a year. Last Friday, as reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Judge Thomas Cooper of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court ruled the ordinance invalid and unconstitutional. Though he rejected the claims of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce that mandatory paid sick leave was unconstitutional, he came to a disturbing conclusion about the rights of domestic violence survivors. In summarizing the judge’s findings, labor and employment attorney Daniel J. Finerty (of Milwaukee law firm Godfrey and Kahn) paraphrased the judge’s views on granting sick leave for people dealing with issues of domestic or sexual violence:

The objectives of the Ordinance in providing domestic violence leave were not rationally related to the overall objectives of the Ordinance, were without any rational basis in the legislative history and, as a result, render the Ordinance unconstitutional.

The judge also ruled that the ordinance had been passed unconstitutionally because the language on the ballot did not mention that paid sick days would include days spent dealing with domestic violence. This second argument may have some merit, but the idea that “providing domestic violence leave [is] not rationally related to the overall objectives of the Ordinance” is at best misguided and at worst offensive.

Paid sick leave is predicated on the idea that all workers have the right to take basic steps to protect their own and their family members’ health, without losing their jobs. Domestic violence constitutes just as much of a threat to the health and safety of all its victims as a serious illness does. To ignore, diminish, or brush aside this fact is an insult to every woman who lives in justified fear of what her husband might do next. When a woman knows that she needs to seek shelter, or go to court, in order to prevent her abuser from harming her or her children, she should not have to gamble her job against her life. There is absolutely no reason she should not be allowed to use a paid sick day in such a situation.

For too long, victims of domestic violence have been blamed for their plight, held responsible for their abusers’ actions, and seen as weak. Judge Cooper’s ruling perpetuates and encourages this offensive view, and it should not be allowed to stand as precedent.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Employment, Women's health

City Girls Continue to Face Obstacles to Athletic Participation

Title IX has been in effect since 1972, the Williams sisters are at least as famous as their male counterparts, and suburban girls play almost as many sports as boys. But as an article in the Sunday New York Times reports, the war for gender equity in athletics is not yet won.

The article focuses on the Cougars, a girls’ basketball team from Middle School 61 in Brooklyn, New York, and also cites a 2007 study of children’s participation in sports conducted by Don Sabo, a college professor. As the article points out, many struggling school districts simply cannot afford to fund sports, meaning that socioeconomic class is arguably the greater issue at hand. However, gender stereotypes certainly exacerbate the problem:

Although boys in the city also have fewer opportunities in sports [than boys in suburban communities], other factors work in their favor. Lean athletic budgets leave a gap that is filled by a blend of volunteers and private groups that have traditionally served more boys than girls.

“The needs of boys just have always been, and to a large extent remain, the unspoken, often unrecognized priority,” Mr. Sabo said.

The Cougars are a perfect example: they face not only a lack of funding, but opposition from players’ parents, who often want the girls, but not their brothers or male cousins, to stay home and babysit or clean the house.

Government cannot control how a family views the role of a girl at home and in sports. However, there are surely some steps our society can take: federal funding to make athletic programs more accessible for city girls; nonprofits focused more on encouraging female athletic participation; better day care services for working mothers.  Girls should not need to be born in a suburb to be able to live out the promise of Title IX.

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Filed under Equality, Girls, Sports, The New York Times, Title IX

Lone Wolves Don’t Appear Out of Nowhere

In this weekend’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, columnist Sally Kalson examined the “lone wolves” who have killed six people in the past 66 days in the United States: Richard Poplawski, who killed three Pittsburgh police officers responding to a domestic disturbance call at his mother’s house; Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. George Tiller in his church in Wichita, Kansas; Abdulhakim Muhammed, who killed a soldier outside of a military recruitment center; and James von Brunn, who killed a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Even though each man supposedly acted on his own, Kalson documents the fact that they had plenty of support, either direct or indirect:

But of course they weren’t really alone — not in the social, psychological and ideological sense. They had a World-Wide Web teeming with like-minded compatriots feeding their paranoia, egging them on with crackpot theories, baseless slander, twisted theology and wild-eyed hatred.

They also had plenty of indirect support in more “mainstream” circles, from talk show headache Bill O’Reilly, who repeatedly likened Dr. Tiller to a Nazi, and other conservative pundits who denounced and ridiculed a recent Department of Homeland Security report warning of an increased domestic threat from right-wing groups.

Nor can we overlook the baseless fear-mongering by various talking heads on hot-button issues, guns in particular. Or the bizarre rhetoric of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Chicago pastor Barack Obama severed ties with after his infamous “God-damn America” sermon went viral. On the same day as the Holocaust museum attack, an audio tape emerged of Rev. Wright accusing “them Jews” of keeping him away from the president (like he’s not already radioactive enough), then sought to smooth things over by blaming “Zionists” instead.

It’s doubtful that the racist von Brunn would have been influenced by a black preacher even if he had heard him, but it goes to the point that toxic words are not limited to the netherworld of cyberspace. Increasingly, they are filtering into public discourse that no longer seems to demand any responsibility.

And so, Newt Gingrich calls Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor “racist,” then takes it back after the damage is done. Barack Obama is called a “left-wing Socialist” during the campaign, a label the voters rejected but some conservatives still cling to. Doctors providing safe, legal abortions are called “baby killers,” their faces, names and home addresses widely distributed among the faithful.

Add hard economic times, which always exacerbate people’s problems and expose the underbelly of “civilized” society, and here we are.

Definitely read the entire thing. Ms. Kalson is doing a public service in making the connections between these acts of violence and the attitudes that enable and empower these men to commit them.

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Filed under Politics