Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

March on Allegheny County Jail Tomorrow for Amy Lynn Gillespie

Amy Lynn Gillespie, 27, died on January 13, 2010. Ms. Gillespie was incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail and at the time of her death, was 18 weeks pregnant. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that she was in jail for “violating the terms of her work release by becoming pregnant.” At the end of December, she complained to jail officials of difficulty breathing and discharge from her lungs. According to a complaint filed in federal court last week, she was denied diagnostic tests and treated for viral influenza. But her condition worsened and she was taken to UPMC Mercy hospital on January 1, where she was diagnosed with bacterial influenza. The infection was too advanced to be treated with antibiotics and she died 12 days later.

Her family is now suing the Allegheny County Jail in U.S. District Court.

La’Tasha Mayes of New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice, said that Ms. Gillespie’s treatment was “clearly a reproductive injustice, and it’s a human rights violation.” Tomorrow, NVP is organizing a march to the Allegheny County Jail to speak out in honor of Ms. Gillespie. It begins at noon at Fifth Avenue and Grant Street. You can find more details about the march here.

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Filed under Government, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Women in prisons, Women's health

Few Female Police Officers in Pittsburgh’s Suburbs

There are approximately 1,555,770 sworn police officers in the United States.  So if the national workforce is 53% male, 47% female (according to the 2008 U.S. Census, though recent estimates have women breaking the 50% mark), then it would reasonable to deduce that we would have approximately 824,560 male officers and at least 731,210 female officers, right?

Instead, there are only 110,670 women (15.5% of all officers) wearing state or local badges in America.  This disparity in law enforcement is additional evidence that gender stereotyping of occupations still exists and is just a portion of the bigger picture that demonstrates an overwhelming number of women being employed in educational services, health care and social assistance industries while being underrepresented in other fields.

In Allegheny County, that disparity is exemplified in the number of female law enforcement officers employed by suburban police departments.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that in their survey of 30 departments in the county, they found only 22 female agents out of 740 law enforcement agents – and that exactly half of those departments have no female officers.  This is something that should be taken seriously, as the Post-Gazette writes:

Few dispute the necessity of having female officers. Women who are victims or suspects can relate more easily to a female officer, and female officers consistently are needed for searches and prisoner transfers. Departments without women regularly request assistance from female officers in neighboring departments for searches, or sometimes they train female civilians on staff to conduct searches.

While there is no question that women have the emotional and physical ability to become law enforcement officers, the  recruiting of female officers is hindered by many obstacles:

Diane Skoog, executive director of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives and former police chief in Carver, Mass., attributed the disparity to a lack of recruiting, less diversity in suburban areas and few mentors to draw women to the field.

She also noted that significantly fewer women take the civil service examinations to become officers, so the number of women who have the opportunity to advance is not large. Representatives of the 30 departments the Post-Gazette interviewed said they used either a civil service commission or some other authoritative committee to conduct examinations and create ranked listings of top candidates for police jobs. Departments are required to hire according to where candidates place on the list following written and physical examinations. Recruits also receive points on the exam for military service, a qualification that Chief [Ophelia] Coleman believes favors men.

Professional support is important but often lacking.  Research indicates that the prevalent negative attitudes that male colleagues display towards their female counterparts are significant difficulties for the latter group:

Male officers anticipate women failing (Brookshire 1980); they doubt women can equal men in most job skills (Bloch and Anderson 1974); they do not see women officers as doing “real” police work (Melchionne 1976); and they perpetuate myths about women’s lack of emotional fitness.

Finally, the demanding hours required of officers makes the job unrealistic for many women:

Joelle Dixon, of the Bethel Park police department, noted that some women can’t find a way to care for their families while working the demanding hours required of officers.

“I’m a mother, and they don’t have traditional day care when you work a midnight shift. I have a tremendous support system that makes my job possible,” she said.

Not only are women needed to provide better safety for the community, they are needed to create a more equitable balance in the work field.  We can increase the number of female law enforcement officers by eliminating gender barriers, encouraging women to pursue their interests despite existing gender stereotypes, and promoting a more equitable family structure that emphasizes equal responsibility between parents.  When this can be achieved, all women will have better opportunities of fulfilling their interests and potential in professional life.

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Filed under Allegheny County, Employment, Equality, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Female Role Models on the Front Page of the Sports Section

Last summer, the Women’s Law Project conducted a 10-day examination of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an attempt to find out how much coverage the sports section of the newspaper devoted to female athletes. Notable findings included:

  • Zero instances of front-page coverage of women’s sports and/or female athletes
  • No full-length articles in the paper regarding women’s sports and/or female athletes
  • Zero pictures of female athletes were featured in the paper
  • An average of 1.14% of the sports section was devoted to women’s sports.

Given these dire statistics, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Sunday’s PG featured big stories about two incredible female athletes and role models: a front page story on swimmer Mimi Hughes, who is beginning a 981 mile swim in the Ohio River this week in Pittsburgh to fundraise for Women Across the World, and a story and picture about 16-year-old Australian sailor Jessica Watson, who recently became the youngest person to sail around the world.

The goal of Hughes’s 981 mile journey, according to the organization’s website, is:

to raise funds and awareness for organizations that support the life skills and academic education of girls. The swim will focus on select organizations from the rural and urban areas of the Ohio River Valley to the remote and fragile environments of the Middle East and Africa that effectively promote education in girls and women. In return, these women and girls will transform themselves, their families and their communities.

Hughes is no novice in swimming long distances—often in filthy and polluted water—for social causes that are important to her. According to the PG,

She once swam the length of the Tennessee River—652 miles—in 2003 to call attention to pollution. She swam three freezing miles across the Bering Strait from Russia to the United States in 197 to raise awareness of social and environmental issues. Similar concerns spurred her in 2006 to swim 1800 miles through numerous countries along the Danube River followed by a 400-mile event in the Drava and Mura rivers in central Europe.

Hughes will depart from the Monongahela Ward at 9 am on Saturday, and plans to swim about 20 miles—8 hours—a day, putting her journey at about 33 days.

Watson, on the other hand, completed an incredible, record-breaking journey on Saturday, when she sailed into Sydney Harbor and became the youngest person to sail around the globe solo, non-stop, and unassisted. Watson, after being alone at sea for 210 days, said that “[p]eople don’t think you’re capable of these things—they don’t realize what young people, what 16-year olds and girls are capable of…It’s amazing when you take away those expectations what you can do.”

Watson and Hughes are both incredible role models for young athletes, girls and boys, and we are encouraged by the fact that the Post-Gazette has made covering their accomplishments, and sharing their stories, a priority for its readers.

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Filed under Equal pay, Girls, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sports

Not Enough Room, Not Enough Money, Turning People Away: The Recession and Domestic Violence Shelters

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggests that the recession is exacerbating the already arduous situations of domestic violence victims. Mackenzie Carpenter writes that “the stresses of the past year’s recession and continued financial uncertainty” are both “fueling increases in abuse” and “making it harder for victims to escape it.”

She recounts the terrifying, but not unusual, story of a 38-year-old Millvale woman whose boyfriend began to beat her more and more frequently after she lost her disability benefits, and money got tight: “He pulled her up by her neck, pointed a gun at her, tried to break her hand and told her he would like to kill her.” When she called a domestic violence shelter, they told her that they were full, and she would need to try to find a friend she could stay with, and as she says, “finally a few days later, I called [the shelter] back and they took me in.”

“She was lucky,” says Carpenter, who follows up with these statistics:

Five years ago, 72 women and children were turned away by the shelter, a number that rose steadily but slowly until last year, when 600 women and children were turned away, up from 222 the year before. For the first four months of this fiscal year, which began July 1 and ends June 30, 445 people already have been told to go elsewhere, which means the shelter is on track to set a record.

Shirl Regan, the director of the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, notes, “It’s been an explosion,” while Janet Scott, the associate director, calls the numbers “unprecedented” and adds that “I have never experienced so long a period where we were consistently full.” Although they are constantly on the phone trying to find other shelters in the regions where women and children can stay, those shelters are often full, in which case they are placed in facilities for homeless people. Carpenter adds that the same trend can be seen nationally. “According to the 2008 National Census of Domestic Violence Services, 8,927 victims were denied services during a one-day census conducted Sept. 17, 2008. That’s up from 7,707 on the same day in 2007.”

After officials at the Pittsburgh shelter started noticing a substantial jump in the number of women looking for a place to stay, they decided to ask victims whether the abuse was tied to financial worries. As of July, 68% have said yes.

Still, Brian Namey, spokesman for the National Network to End Domestic Violence, cautions against blaming the economic downturn alone for the prevalence of abuse: “The recession does not cause domestic violence, but an economic downturn can exacerbate existing abuse,” he said. “A poor economy can increase stress levels in relationships and limit options for victims to escape violent relationships.” Additionally, job loss can cause abusers to be home more frequently.

On top of all this, the recession has caused shelters to receive much less help from federal funds. Whereas the shelter used to be able to help some women transition to new housing by paying their security deposit and first month’s rent, this practice cannot be sustained in the midst of a poor economy, making it more difficult for women to start a new life outside of the shelter. Despite the growing number of obstacles, Regan says that they will not stop trying to help every woman and child who shows up at the shelter: “We will do everything we can to help families stay safe. Even if we don’t have room, we’ll find a way.”

For more information on the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, and the great work they do, click here.

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Letter to the Editor: Sexual Assault Charges Against Ben Roethlisberger

The western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project, along with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, sent the following letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette regarding the paper’s treatment of the sexual assault charges against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Post-Gazette did not print the letter, so we are reproducing it here in its entirety.

To the Editor:

First let’s state the obvious:  neither we nor Gene Collier know what, if anything, happened in Nevada involving Ben Roethlisberger (“Steelers now have plenty to overcome”).  It is reckless and unfair to try to guess based on untrue stereotypes about sexual assault.

Mr. Collier opines about the “highly problematic distance of some 371 days between the alleged rape and the formal filing of a civil lawsuit.”  In fact, it is extremely common for sexual assault survivors to delay or avoid making a criminal complaint or taking legal action against their attackers. They may be too traumatized to deal with the assault, fear that no one will support them, or realize that they will be subjected to vicious public attacks on their character or motives.

Mr. Collier can’t believe that Mr. Roethlisberger could have assaulted the plaintiff because he’s “polite, practiced at the art of overarching humility,” and “young women are magnetized to him in clumps, so it doesn’t exactly follow that he would have to coerce one.”  But rape is not about sex. It is about power and control. Highly successful and polite men can commit sexual assault.

Let’s not fall back on damaging and dangerous myths about sexual assault and make it even harder than it already is for sexual assault victims to come forward.

Susan Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney, Women’s Law Project

Laura Randolph, Executive Director, Pittsburgh Action Against Rape

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Filed under Rape, Sports

Is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Covering Men’s and Women’s Sports Equally?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is the largest newspaper in Allegheny County. However, when reading the Post-Gazette’s sports section, it’s difficult not to notice that there are very few stories covering women’s sports or female athletes. To determine whether this is a systemic problem, the WLP kept a detailed record for ten days from July 21, 2009, through July 30, 2009, on how much coverage was devoted to women athletes.

We measured the approximate number of inches of the entire sports section each day, including the photos but not including the ads, or classifieds. We also counted the number of articles in the sports section and noted reference to athletics, if any, on the front page of the paper.

Not one single day contained a full-length article in the paper regarding women’s sports and/ or female athletes. The only items involving female athletes, other than simple stats, were very small news briefs, most under 200 words. The newspaper ran stories on possible recruits for the University of Pittsburgh men’s teams, but nothing was written about the many women’s Panther teams.

There were also no pictures at all of women athletes throughout the entire ten days. Regrettably, the only females to merit a photo were a female horse and an actress, Jennifer Lopez.

To help give a better understanding of how astonishing the results were, we calculated that there were a little less than 15,000 inches of sports coverage for ten days. Of that, not even 200 inches belonged to women. An average of 1.14% of the sports section for ten days was dedicated to women. Furthermore, there was not one instance of front-page coverage of women’s athletics in the Post-Gazette.

It is important to have women’s sports recognized in the Post-Gazette. Young women look up to female athletes as strong, competitive role models. Seeing nothing in the paper sends a clear message that they should give up their dreams because the only sports that matter are for men, by men.

Moreover, existing women’s sports suffer, too. They need the publicity to grow and develop, attract fans, raise money and provide opportunities for women to succeed in the sport. How can they do so if no one knows about them?  It would benefit the paper to attract additional women readers who care about women’s sports.

Right now, the Post-Gazette’s front-page claim to be “One of America’s Great Newspapers” is just not true when it comes to women’s athletics.

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Filed under Allegheny County, Equality, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sports

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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WLP on Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Title IX Audit

The Pittsburgh public school system is currently undergoing a Title IX audit to determine if its schools offer an equally fulfilling athletic life to the city’s girls as they do to its boys. Women’s Law Project Program Assistant Christina Cann has an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in which she explains why this audit is important, and describes the measures that must be taken for the audit to be truly effective. She writes:

Title IX, the federal law which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs and activities, has been responsible for an explosion in athletic opportunities for female students over the past three decades. Nevertheless, it appears that female students, particularly in our area, still have fewer opportunities to play sports than their male counterparts and that girls who do participate get inferior equipment, uniforms, fields, facilities, coaching, publicity and scheduling at many schools.

It’s commendable that the Pittsburgh school district is looking at its gender-equity performance and taking the initiative to ensure that girls are treated fairly in its athletic programs. The district understands this is about more than just having fun: On the whole, girls who play sports do better academically; graduate at higher rates; have fewer problems with alcohol, drugs, eating disorders and unintended pregnancy; and have greater self-esteem than non-athletes.

Cann notes that in order for the auditor to understand whether or not Pittsburgh Public Schools are truly adhering to Title IX, she should, in addition to examining records and distributing questionnaires, gather information from student-athletes and their parents, and ensure that “any student who speaks out about discrimination will not suffer retaliation of any kind.” Cann also makes clear that Title IX makes it possible for girls to have a more meaningful experience in sports all around. This means that equal roster numbers are not sufficient if other aspects of the female athlete’s experience are lacking. The WLP looks forward to the findings of the audit, which will be released this summer, and to the necessary changes within Pittsburgh public schools’ athletic programs which are sure to follow.

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Filed under Education, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sports, Title IX

The Impact of Female Judges

In the wake of U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s announcement of his retirement at the end of the current term, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette printed an article by two researchers who studied the differences in jurisprudence between male and female judges. They looked at rulings in different areas of the law, including environmental, criminal, and sex discrimination cases. Their results were very interesting:

For the most part, we found no difference in the voting patterns of male and female judges, except when it comes to sex discrimination cases. There, we found that female judges are approximately 10 percent more likely to rule in favor of the party bringing the discrimination claim. We also found that the presence of a female judge causes male judges to vote differently. When male and female judges serve together to decide a sex discrimination case, the male judges are nearly 15 percent more likely to rule in favor of the party alleging discrimination than when they sit with male judges only.

This holds true even after we account for judges’ ideological leanings. If Mr. Obama is considering two fairly moderate people, one a woman and the other a man, we would expect the woman to cast more liberal votes in sex discrimination cases. The same would be true if the president were considering two very liberal candidates, again, one a man and one a woman.

Their research shows the importance of adding a female justice to the Supreme Court, especially considering the Court’s recent rulings in sex discrimination cases such as Ledbetter v. Goodyear. Currently, the only woman on the Supreme Court is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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Filed under Employment, Equality, Government, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Politics

Pennsylvania Women Rank Low in Politics

As names are being thrown out to the public for possible candidates to run in the upcoming senatorial and gubernatorial races in Pennsylvania, it is important to note that the number of women’s names is disappointingly low. This allows us to expect little to no change in Pennsylvania’s abysmal ranking of 46th in female participation in state legislatures. Democratic U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and Republican Peg Luksik of Johnstown are the only known female candidates who may possibly run against Sen. Arlen Specter. No women have announced their candidacy in the gubernatorial race.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently published an article exploring several possible reasons for Pennsylvania’s  low rank in female political participation. Firstly, Pennsylvania is a large state, geographically speaking, making a commute to Harrisburg potentially difficult for women juggling a political career and family. On top of that, history shows that mothers who do run in Pennsylvania face judgment from the media and the public in general. In the mid-1990s, Judge Joan Orie Melvin was asked (by a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, no less) who would be home taking care of her children if she were elected. And the article notes that times haven’t changed much: “State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, said she frequently was asked who was home taking care of her son when she first ran for office in 2004.”

Pennsylvania is also a traditionally harsh political climate for women, being a Rust Belt state whose political atmosphere is dominated by men in positions of leadership. As women tend to wait until they are asked to run or think they need to be trained first, it is important that party leaders are put under pressure to encourage female candidates.

According to the article, studies have shown that unless the gender mix is at least 30%, the minority’s voice will likely not be heard. Gender diversity is important and effective in politics, allowing more voices to be heard and incorporating various styles of leadership into political decision making processes. An increased number of female policy-makers also usually corresponds to higher emphasis being placed on issues that affect women, children, families and health. The state of women in politics is also a national issue, which we blogged about here. We need to put pressure on our state and national leaders to urge women to run for elected office, from city council to the U.S. Senate.

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Filed under Equality, Government, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Politics