In The News

May 13, 2010

NATIONAL – The United States will have its human rights record judged by the United Nations Human Rights Council this fall. “Human rights are universal, but their experience is local. That is why we are committed to holding everyone to the same standard, including ourselves,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Washington Post. Some argue that the commission has been overrun by human rights violators like China, Cuba and Egypt and the United States should not participate, but the Obama Administration counters that the U.S. will be in a stronger position to critique human rights violators if we complete the “universal periodic review” process. Each of the 192 United Nations member countries is supposed to go through the review process every four years.

AK – Governor Sean Parnell is heading up a new campaign that calls on Alaskans not to stand by when they see or suspect domestic violence, and to make it a social norm that it is everyone’s business to report and stop such acts. The new “Choose Respect” campaign is in response to Alaska’s high rates of domestic and sexual assault. “Our violence and assault stats will plunge when Alaska men in every corner and every culture in the state think about what it means to truly be a man,” the Anchorage Daily News editorialized.

DC – On Mother’s Day, mothers from across the United States and advocates for abused children gathered in front of the White House for a silent vigil to draw attention to the fact that family courts ordered them to give full custody or unsupervised visitation to their abusers. “We decided that Mother’s Day was the perfect time to stand vigil in front of the White House with mothers from all over America whose children are either dead or living in harm’s way because of the broken family court system,” said Connie Valentine, vigil organizer and co-founder of the California Protective Parent’s Association.

DC – American University’s student newspaper is apologizing for publishing a March 30 column that called date rape an “incoherent concept” and said that any woman who attends a fraternity party, has five drinks and goes back to a man’s room is “indicating she wants sex” and should not “cry ‘date rape.’” Students were outraged after sophomore Alex Knepper published the column. A day after it was published, Knepper told the Washington Post that he enjoyed “stirring the pot” and doesn’t “mind being hated for his views.” In response to students’ protests, The Eagle’s editors are organizing a forum on the issue. They also announced that Knepper will be required to follow a stricter set of guidelines to ensure that his arguments are coherent and reasonable.

FL – Two judges in Sarasota County have created a controversial new policy that requires domestic violence victims to contact police before they grant them a restraining order, reports the Sarasota Herald Tribune. The victims also would be ordered to pursue criminal prosecution as a part of the civil court process. Violence prevention advocates fear that this requirement could discourage victims from seeking protective orders. Circuit Judges Robert McDonald and Andrew Owens countered that they’ve ordered dozens of petitioners to report their allegations to law enforcement, but haven’t imposed any sanctions on victims unwilling to do so.

IL – The man charged with spying on ESPN reporter Erin Andrews was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison last month. At the sentencing Andrews said, “You violated me and you violated all women… you are a sexual predator, a sexual deviant and they should lock you up.” Michael David Barrett pled guilty last December to interstate stalking after prosecutors accused him of following Andrews to at least three cities and filming her through hotel peepholes. The footage is still posted on the Internet.

KY – As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Louisville Metro Criminal Justice Commission has been awarded $170,000 to develop a system to issue emergency protection orders electronically. In the current system, protection orders must be physically delivered to judges for approval, returned to the domestic-violence intake center, and then a sheriff’s deputy has to pick them up and serve them. The process can take a few days. The new system will allow the orders to be processed in a matter of hours and served the same day, the Courier-Journal reports. The program is expected to start in February 2011.

MD – A Baltimore County judge was suspended from hearing cases last month after he presided over the marriage of an alleged domestic assault victim and her accused attacker. Frederick Wood was charged with assaulting his fiancée in November. The assault case came to trial on March 10 and District Judge G. Darrell Russell Jr. allowed Wood a recess to obtain a marriage license. Another judge who had no knowledge of the charges against Wood waived the 48-hour waiting period for the marriage. When Wood returned to the courtroom, Judge Russell married him. Wood’s new wife invoked marital privilege so she would not be forced to testify against her new husband. Wood was then found not guilty. The House of Ruth Maryland and the Women’s Law Center of Maryland have filed a complaint with a state panel that disciplines judges, the Baltimore Sun reports.

MN – The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported earlier this month that the police department has launched the “St. Paul Blueprint for Safety” – a new approach so that all parts of the criminal justice system will work together on domestic violence crimes. The “Blueprint” calls for everyone involved, from the 911 operator to judges, to assess for signs of danger. Patrol officers are being trained to ask three key questions: Do you think he/she will seriously injure you or your children? When were you hurt or most afraid? And how frequent is the violence and is the frequency changing? The Minnesota legislature appropriated half a million dollars in 2007 to St. Paul to write a comprehensive plan and a more general guide that other cities could customize.

OH – Last month, Cuyahoga Juvenile Court Judge Alison Floyd ordered teenage rape victims to take polygraph tests even after finding their accusers delinquent, which is the juvenile court equivalent of guilty. Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Regina Brett called the case “unbelievable,” and wrote “The federal Violence Against Women Act of 2005 prohibits forcing a rape victim to take a lie detector test.” Judge Floyd has not commented on the case or her motives for ordering the polygraph are unclear.

MALAYSIA – Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno was sentenced last July to caning after being caught drinking beer at a beach restaurant by the morality police. In April, the state’s sultan commuted her sentence to three weeks of community service, the Associated Press reports. Human rights activists had been protesting her punishment, and many in Malaysia say that Islamic laws should not intrude in personal matters in the country, which is known as a moderate and progressive Islamic society.

YEMEN – In late March, hundreds of women protested in support of a bill to ban the marriage of girls under age 17. Some of the country’s most influential Islamic leaders oppose the legislation and it is putting the government’s ruling party in a delicate position, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The government fears being branded “un-Islamic” or “full of infidels.” Child marriage is widespread in Yemen, especially in rural areas. A decision is expected this month.