Monthly Archives: June 2010

Office of Legal Counsel: VAWA Applies to Same-sex Violence

On June 9th, the Office of Legal Councel (OLC) for the U.S. Department of Justice released an opinion (actually dated April 27th, 2010) asserting that the criminal provisions of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) apply to “otherwise covered conduct when the offender and the victim are the same sex.”

Constitutional Law Prof describes the opinion as “a largely textual analysis that “intimate partner,” “dating partner,” and other such non-marital relations include same-sex partners every bit as much as opposite-sex partners.”

The gender-neutral language of the law made it fairly easy to argue – in just 7 pages, the memorandum [PDF] looks at interstate domestic violence, interstate stalking, and interstate violation of a protection order. These criminal provisions use the words “spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner” and in the case of stalking, simply “another person.” Only the first word of these, “spouse,” could not be interpreted to mean an “individual who is the same sex as the target,” as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), requires that word only be applied to heterosexual marriages – even if the same-sex couple is “married under state law.”

As the opinion notes, DOMA does not “address the additional term ‘intimate partner.’” The lawyers at the OLC then go on to conclude “there is no indication Congress intended by that vague phrase [‘social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature,’ the given definition of ‘intimate partner’] to require such relationships to be heterosexual.”

This opinion is extremely important in bringing issues of same-sex intimate partner violence (IPV) to the forefront. A recent study comparing police response to opposite-sex versus same-sex IPV makes it clear that the justice system is not acting in an unbiased manner with regard to same-sex IPV:

Existing biases against gay and lesbian lifestyles and the dominance of heterosexual attitudes within the police department and the courtroom have not created the same atmosphere of legal support and resolution that is offered to heterosexual victims of violence. To date, research has provided a discouraging account of the police response to same-sex domestic violence. This research has noted that police have minimized the potential seriousness of the incident, failed to arrest the perpetrators or even intervene and ignored standard domestic violence procedures concerning the identification and arrest of the ‘primary aggressor’ regardless of physicality.

Even putting aside personal biases that law enforcement officers may have, the legal language of many states’ existing laws make it difficult to obtain protection from abuse.  Ola Barnett, distinguished emerita professor of psychology at Pepperdine University in Malibu, observes in her book Family Violence Across the Lifespan:

Official reports of same-sex IPV are generally lacking because police and the FBI do not have categories suitable for classifying same-sex IPV. Instead, they place these offenders and victims into categories such as ‘friend’ or ‘acquaintance.’ Laws against IPV in some states do not even apply to gays and lesbians because gays and lesbians cannot be legally classified as intimate partners.

Many people think that violence doesn’t occur in same-sex relationships. This is simply not true. As the 1998 domestic violence report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (NCAVP) points out, “at least one in four gay and lesbian partners will experience domestic violence in his or her lifetime.”

We applaud the OLC for clarifying this statute as it should be interpreted – protecting all citizens from intimate partner violence, not just those in heterosexual relationships.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Government, LGBT, Women's health

Swedish Men Take Parental Leave – What’s the Situation in the U.S.?

In 1974, Sweden became the first country in the world to replace “maternity leave” with “parental leave,” a small change of words that laid the groundwork to make a world of difference for working mothers in Sweden. In 1995, a new law allocated one month of the 12-month parental leave, solely to fathers. The politician responsible for the law had a very specific goal in mind:

“I always thought if we made it easier for women to work, families would eventually choose a more equal division of parental leave by themselves. But I gradually became convinced that there wasn’t all that much choice… Society is a mirror of the family. The only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve equality in the home. Getting fathers to share the parental leave is an essential part of that.”

With the new law, it was still optional for fathers to take parental leave. However, the family would lose one month of their paid (at 80% of normal salary) leave from the government if he did not. Almost immediately, the paltry 6% of fathers taking parental leave jumped to 80%, as the financial incentive made it easier to face social obstacles at work.

In 2002, “daddy leave” was expanded to include two nontransferable “dad” months of the now 13 total months, a revision that “only marginally increased the number of men taking leave” but “more than doubled the amount of time they take.” The Social Democrats, vying for a victory in the Swedish elections on September 19th, plan to expand the law yet again, doubling nontransferable leave for each parent to four months.

Currently, 80% of fathers take a third of the 13 months leave. This has had profound impacts for women in the workplace. Prior to the 1995 law, mothers were still overwhelmingly taking the full leave time, “not just for tradition’s sake but because their pay was often lower, thus perpetuating pay differences.” A study by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation published evidence in March that “a mother’s future earnings increase on average 7 percent for every month the father takes leave.” Thus, fathers taking responsibility for child care significantly impacts women’s ability to succeed in the workplace.

Moreover, “understanding what it is to be home with a child may help explain why divorce and separation rates in Sweden have dropped since 1995,” even as divorce rates across the world have continually risen. For couples who do divorce, joint custody is becoming more common, an arrangement that, in most cases, benefits the children. Further, work-life balance has become a priority for job-seekers, and “a family-friendly work pattern has simply become a new way of attracting talent.” It seems that there are broader implications for increased quality of life for families who are legally allowed and even institutionally incentivized to share the duties of childcare.

Germany has a similar system in place, with 20% of fathers taking advantage of the benefits of the 2007 law that reserved 2 of the 14 paid, parental leave months for fathers. Iceland allocates 3 months each for both mother and father of its 9 parental leave months. Portugal stands out as the only country to require paternity leave, though only for one week.

When we leave aside gender neutral language, and just look at paid maternity leave internationally, the United States’ current policy seems shocking. Worldwide, 177 countries, including Djibouti, Haiti and Afghanistan, “have laws on the books requiring that all women, and in some cases men, receive both income and job-protected time off after the birth of a child.”

In contrast, the United States’s Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, guarantees just 12 weeks of unpaid leave for employees. And the gaps in this coverage are astonishing. Many women aren’t covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, since it doesn’t apply to the more than 50% of workers who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees or who have work fewer than 1,250 hours in the past year. Further, because the leave is unpaid, many parents are financially unable to take time off work. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that “women who return to work soon after the birth of a child are more likely to get depressed than other mothers,” and “longer maternity leaves are associated with improvements in mothers’ overall health.”

Juxtaposing Swedish and U.S. law sheds a harsh light on the state of our parental leave laws in the United States. Hopefully the recent attention that international policies have received in the American media will raise awareness about the issue and potentially effect change for the better.

(emphasis added in all quotes throughout this post)


Filed under Childbirth, Employment, Equality, Government, Parenthood, Pregnancy

UPCOMING EVENT: Free Dating Violence Conference in Montgomery County, PA

This Thursday, June 24, 2010, a conference about relationship violence, “Everybody’s Business: Preventing Dating Violence and Domestic Abuse in Our Community” will be held at the Montgomery County Community College Science Center Theatre. Registration is free, and continental breakfast is provided. The conference starts with a welcome at 9 AM by Nancy L. Mellon, the director of New Choices, Dr. Karen Stout, the President of the Montgomery County Community College, and Daniel Reavy, the Director of External Affairs for Verizon-Pennsylvania. Then the two keynote speakers will present in hour and fifteen minute-long segments.  Here is some information about them, from the event brochure:

  • Wendy J. Murphy is a former prosecutor who specialized in child abuse and sex crimes cases. The first lawyer in the country to run a program to provide free legal services to crime victims, Wendy has been fighting for victims’ rights for more than twenty years and now represents crime victims in civil and criminal cases. She teaches an advanced seminar on sexual violence at the New England School of Law in Boston, where she also manages the Sexual Violence Legal News and Judicial Language projects. Wendy writes scholarly and pop culture articles, and lectures widely on victims’ rights, sex crimes, violence against women and children, media coverage of crime and the criminal justice system. She has worked as a legal analyst for CBS News, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. She appears regularly on cable and network news programs to provide commentary on legal news stories. Wendy’s first book, And Justice For Some, was published in 2007.
  • Dr. Sandra L. Bloom is a Board-Certified psychiatrist, graduate of Temple University School of Medicine. She currently is Associate Professor of Health Management and Policy and Co-Director of the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice at the School of Public Health of Drexel University in Philadelphia. Dr. Bloom is President of CommunityWorks, an organizational consulting firm committed to the development of nonviolent environments and Distinguished Fellow of the Andrus Children’s Center in Yonkers, NY. From 1980-2001, Dr. Bloom served as Founder and Executive Director of the Sanctuary programs, inpatient psychiatric programs for the treatment of trauma-related emotional disorders. In 2005, in partnership with Andrus Children’s Center, Dr. Bloom established a training institute, the Sanctuary Institute, to train a wide variety of programs in the Sanctuary Model®. A new book, Sanctuary in the Workplace, has been submitted for publication. Dr. Bloom is a Past-President of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and author of Creating Sanctuary: Toward the Evolution of Sane Societies and co-author of Bearing Witness: Violence and Collective Responsibility. Dr. Bloom is a recipient of the Temple University School of Medicine Alumni Achievement Award.

Ms. Murphy will lead this seminar:

Dating Violence: On Campus, In the News, In the Courtroom and Community

  • Dating Violence in the News: Do magazine covers, news shows, and social media sites inflame or inform?
  • Dating Violence and the Law: Is the legal system at fault for repeat offenders?
  • Dating Violence and the Community: How can WE help?

One in four girls is affected by dating violence every day. Does media coverage create a “new norm” by desensitizing teens? And why do so many young offenders continue to commit violent acts? Is our legal system to blame? Former prosecutor Wendy Murphy, J.D. will help participants learn how the language in law and popular culture influences behavior and perception, and how we as individuals and community members can help.

Dr. Bloom will lead this seminar:

Breaking the Cycle of Violence: Helping Survivors Heal

  • What are the long-term effects of domestic violence on the victim and the “village”?
  • How the “Sanctuary Model” creates a safe environment that gives survivors a voice?
  • How the community can help?

Using her groundbreaking program “The Sanctuary Model” as her guide, Dr. Sandra L. Bloom will discuss the roles and responsibilities of the community in recognizing, treating, and ultimately preventing domestic abuse and trauma. In Dr. Bloom’s program, survivors learn empowering strategies that promote healing. “The Sanctuary Model” presents a cohesive theory of healing that breaks the vicious cycle of abuse.

You can register for the conference here.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Events

June is LGBT Pride Month

LGBT pride rainbow flag

This month, pride parades are occurring throughout the United States in honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. On June 13th in Philadelphia, floats made their way to Penn’s Landing where retailers, community groups, and entertainers awaited them. On the same day, Pittsburgh had their annual Pride Awareness March. Over one hundred organizations and groups participated.

Pride marches occur in June in remembrance of the Stonewall Riots of June 1969. In 1969, New York City allowed bars to refuse service to LGBT customers. In establishments where members of the LGBT community were served, they were not allowed to touch members of the same sex when they danced. Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street offered a reprieve from discrimination for a three dollar cover charge.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the NYPD First District raided the bar. Those inside fought back. The rebellion lasted for six days as more LGBT youth joined the fight.

Gay rights groups such as the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis had been active before the riots. But June 1969 marked a turning point when the gay liberation movement became more modern and aggressive.

On July 4, 1969, the Mattachine Society, Frank Kameny, Craig Rodwell and others protested in Philadelphia in what they called the “Annual Reminder.” The protest was calm and peaceful, but Rodwell thought the placid “Annual Reminder” was not enough. He organized the first U.S. gay pride parade called “Christopher Street Liberation Day” that took place on June 28, 1970. The parade covered fifty-one blocks.

Since then, June has been considered Gay Pride Month. And in 2000, it was officially recognized by President Clinton, who named it “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.” President Obama made the month’s name more inclusive on May 28th of this year, naming June Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.

In June, it is important not only to celebrate pride with large-scale parades but also to reflect on how far the LGBT rights movement has come since 1969 and how far it still has to go. Refusing to serve a gay person is now considered discrimination in many places and same-sex couples may touch each other as they dance. However, legal marriage is still impossible for gay couples in most states, including Pennsylvania. This results not only in excluding gay couples from one of society’s major cultural institutions, but also an increased financial burden on the couple, and depending on the state laws, increased difficulty with adoption and the legal fees associated with custody. Further, access to health care coverage can be impeded for domestic partners, while married couples easily share insurance policies. There are numerous ways in which the gay community is still disadvantaged (including legally, socially, and financially) and there is a lot of work to be done, though it is certainly inspiring to be reminded of how much work has been accomplished by the early activists.


Filed under Equality, LGBT, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Sexual orientation

What We’re Reading

Welcome to a new feature on the WLP blog, where we share links to articles we’re reading with you. Feel free to add your own in comments!

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Filed under What We're Reading

Victories for Female Candidates: Are We Any Closer to Equal Representation?

NPR termed it a “Super Tuesday For Women. The Washington Post called ita year of the woman,” but noted “the general election in the fall will be the real test of whether the ‘year of the woman’ label is fitting.” After high-profile primaries resulted in numerous victorious female candidates across the country, Samantha Bee of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart humorously explained, “Men broke the country and now you need the ladies to come in and make it all better.”

So what did happen in this year’s primaries? Here are some of the highest-profile wins:

Meg Whitman won the California Republican Gubernatorial primary, making her the “first female billionaire to translate her business acumen into politics” after being the former chief executive of eBay. Peter Beinart of the Daily Beast comments, “[she] opposes the right to abortion, can’t decide if global warming is real, [and] won the endorsement of Sarah Palin.” Whitman spent almost $80 million on her successful campaign, much of it her own money. Whitman will face Jerry Brown (D), a “former two-term governor hoping to win back his old job,” in the November election.

Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, won the Republican Senate nomination in California. Fiorina commented in her victory speech on Tuesday night, “Career politicians in Washington and Sacramento be warned, because you now face your worst nightmare: two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done.” Fiorina was the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company. She will face another woman, the incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer (D), in November.

Nikki Haley faces a June 22nd runoff challenge for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in South Carolina, a state where no women occupy an elected position in the 46-member Senate, after receiving 49% of the vote in the Tuesday primary. She would be the first Indian-American governor of South Carolina. Like Fiorina and Whitman, Haley was also endorsed by Palin, which some think contributed to her jump to the front of the “crowded GOP field” in South Carolina.

Roxanne Conlin won the Democratic Senatorial primary in Iowa, a state that has never elected a woman to the House or Senate. Conlin took “an overwhelming percentage of the vote,” leaving her two male competitors in the dust. She will face five-term incumbent Senator Sen. Charles Grassley (R) in November.

Sharron Angle will face incumbent Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) in November, who was apparently “hoping to face off against this rather extreme candidate,” rather than the two other potential contenders that she ousted. Angle, a tea-party endorsed candidate, holds some “controversial positions,” including “abolishing the Department of Education, getting the United States out of the United Nations, and privatizing and/or phasing out Social Security.” The GOP is focusing, on the other hand, on the 13.7% unemployment rate in Nevada, which they feel incumbent Senator Reid has failed to address.

What do these victories mean for women and for the feminist movement?

The Women’s Campaign Forum wrote:

While it cannot be denied that Fiorina and Haley’s [and Haley’s and Angle’s] wins are historic, they also beg the question: Are these victories for women?

As feminism and the women’s movement were born out of the need for reproductive freedom in the form of birth control in the 1970’s, can an anti-choice woman running for office be considered a feminist just because she is a woman? The answer: No.

While, here at WCF, we applaud conservative female candidates who have risen above the misogynistic tactics thrown at them during their races, feminist victories will only come from women who support reproductive health choices.

(emphasis original)

Female representation in our federal legislature (along with numerous other governing bodies in the United States) leaves much to be desired. The Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University reports that:

  • Women hold 73, or 16.8%, of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives
  • Of these 73, only three chair a House of Representatives committee and only 7 hold a leadership position within their political party.
  • Women hold 17, or 17%, of the 100 seats in the 111th U.S. Senate.
  • Of these 17, only three chair a Senate committee and only 4 hold a leadership position within their political party.
  • Of the 90 women in the U.S. House and Senate, only 23.3% identify as women of color.
  • Only 262 women have served in the U.S. Congress to date (167 Democrats, 85 Republicans).

At the Women’s Law Project, we don’t endorse candidates. But we are concerned with the lack of female representation in our country’s public offices. When high-profile victories for female candidates bring attention to this issue of female representation, we are eager to jump into the discussion.

We want to hear from YOU! What do you think? Do these victories mark a new era for women in politics? Leave a comment below!


Filed under Democracy, Equality, Government, Politics

NYC Implementing Changes to Benefit Homeless LGBTQ Youth

homeless person sleeping on bench

The New York City Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Runaway and Homeless Youth recently presented Mayor Michael Bloomberg with ten recommendations for improving the conditions of homeless LGBTQ youth in NYC [PDF]. Bloomberg is expecting that “the majority of recommendations will be implemented within the next year, while those that require additional funding will be rolled-out as private funds are identified.” In keeping with the recommendations in the report, Bloomberg has already directed that the drop-in centers for NYC’s Department of Youth and Community Development raise the age limit from twenty-one to twenty-four.

LGBTQ youth “make up between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youth, a vastly disproportionate representation of these communities.” Homelessness can be particularly horrible for these individuals because it is often compounded by factors like racism (the majority of homeless LGBTQ youth are people of color), “family rejection, high rates of mental illness, and greater use of survival strategies that increase risk for HIV/AIDS”.

Previous recommendations included preparing LGBTQ homeless youth for independent living. Parents who don’t accept their LGBTQ son or daughter were seen “as the cause of the problem, rather than part of the solution”. However, this report shifts the focus from preparing youth for a life apart from their family to educating parents about sexual orientation and related issues. If parents are properly educated, perhaps youth would not become homeless in the first place. In the instances when education initiatives fail, the report recommends building alternative support systems for LGBTQ youth..

Commissioner Mullgrav stated “‘this report provides New York City with a blueprint for becoming the first community in the nation to comprehensively address the unique challenges facing runaway and homeless LGBTQ youth.’” We hope that NYC continues to implement the recommendations of the report, pioneering efforts to focus on this overrepresented portion of the homeless population. We also hope that other cities will follow NYC’s example.

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Filed under Government, HIV/AIDS, LGBT