Sexual Assault on Campus, Anonymity, and Title IX


January 4, 2017; New York Times and National Public Radio

According to a 2007 study by the National Institute of Justice, one in five female college students (and one in 16 male college students) are sexually assaulted and more than 90 percent do not report the crime. One of the reasons students do not report is fear of retaliation, particularly when the accuser is one of their professors. If the student reports the crime to the college’s Title IX office instead of the criminal justice system, they can remain anonymous—but that can often lead to other problems.

Two University of Kentucky entomology graduate students were separately assaulted by one of their professors. They feared retribution and explored opportunities to report the crime while maintaining their anonymity. One of the students explained their decision:

I just spent a good portion of my life in grad school trying to further my career and if I’m labeled as someone who filed a sexual assault claim against a professor, that could very easily backfire against me. There’s a lot of people in academia who think that there are women who make up stuff like this.

They filed a report in the university’s Title IX office. Title IX is a federal law prohibiting gender discrimination on college and university campuses. Schools failing to follow Title IX risk losing federal funding. Once a report is filed, the office is required to investigate. During the investigation, the accused and accuser remain anonymous. Unfortunately, the investigation and subsequent hearings are fraught with challenges.

One obstacle is that each school’s office has jurisdiction only over its students and personnel. If the accused decides to leave the institution before the hearing is completed, the proceedings end immediately without any reference to the investigation on their record, allowing the accused (assuming he or she were guilty of the offense) to potentially assault additional students at the new school.

Another challenge is how the hearing is decided. Who presides over the hearing varies from school to school and usually doesn’t include officials from the criminal justice system. Title IX mandates the hearing utilize the “preponderance of the evidence” burden of proof. This standard is significantly less than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is required in a criminal trial. Nonprofit Quarterly has reported on the controversy surrounding 2011 U.S. Department of Education “guidance” on college sexual assault that has been opposed by some in academia, including one specific letter issued by 28 Harvard Law School professors criticizing the lack of due process in college sexual assault invstigations. Participating in a hearing is often extremely difficult for a survivor of assault because of the stresses that come with proving the activity occurred. By using the lower standard of proof, the hearing puts a limit on any additional pain, trauma, and expense.

In the case of the two University of Kentucky students, the Title IX office scheduled an official hearing after interviewing dozens of people and collecting evidence. But the hearing never occurred because the professor resigned before it could begin. Frustrated, the women reported the assaults to the university’s student newspaper. The media attention led to many additional stories and FOIA requests for the full Title IX report. The students feared their anonymity would be compromised and joined an action by the university to stop the report release. Judge Thomas Clark of the Fayette County Circuit Court plans to issue a ruling in the next two weeks.

Schools that fail to conduct proper hearings can be subject to government complaints and lawsuits. Currently, over 200 institutions are under federal investigation due to complaints connected to sexual violence investigations and proceedings. A better solution might be a society that better supports survivors of sexual assault.—Gayle Nelson

Update: On Tuesday, 1/24/2017 The Judge ruled in favor of the University to prohibit the release of the report to protect the anonymity of the students. The Newspaper states it will appeal the decision.

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Fighting Domestic Violence, One Haircut at a Time


January 1, 2017; New York Times and NPR, “The Two-Way”

According to a CDC study from 2003, domestic violence is the cause of two million injuries in the U.S. every year. Beginning this year, the state of Illinois has a new law educating hair stylists, nail technicians, and aestheticians on ways to help customers who are victims of domestic violence.

Joan Rowan is a hair stylist and owner of two hair salons in the Chicagoland area. In her forty-one-year career, she has had multiple conversations with clients who were experiencing domestic abuse: “Sometimes they tell you so much they never come back again, because they’re afraid, or they’re embarrassed, they don’t know what to do.” Rowan has provided training to her stylists to help them support their clients, but she has wished there were more she could do.

For a long time, public health campaigns among others have recognized the value of hair salons and barber shops as centers for community education and organizing, so the concept of making use of these venues is not new. But the state of Illinois is now building on these relationships with a new law that went into effect January 1st. Advocated for by the nonprofit Chicago Says No More, the law is the first of its kind to reach out and provide a one-hour training to hair stylists and nail technicians every two years as part of their license renewal. Over the next two years, it’s estimated about 88,000 stylists will participate in the program.

Chicago Says No More created the “Listen. Support. Connect.” program with the help of Cosmetologists Chicago. The program educates stylists on how to identify signs of abuse and assault and provide resources. Stylists are required to participate in the program but do not have to report the violence and are protected from any liability.

Although the number of independent neighborhood hair salons has been decreasing over the last forty years, hair stylists and their salons continue to have a special relationship with their clients and community. Often, they serve clients for many years and sometimes multiple generations of the same family. The relationship is something Illinois State Senator Bill Cunningham, one of the legislators responsible for introducing the law, knows personally: His wife was a hairstylist in her early twenties.

The program was built upon the Professional Beauty Association’s Cut It Out Campaign. The national campaign provides resources “mobilizing salon professionals and others to fight the epidemic of domestic abuse in communities across the U.S.” It was created in 2003 after a similar statewide program was developed by the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham and the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

There’s an unspoken downside, however: Although the new Illinois law provides resources to women experiencing abuse, since the state is again without a budget, many of the organizations these women will look to for help are not receiving state funding and may not have the staff or programs to help.—Gayle Nelson


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Wisconsin’s High Rate of Incarceration Taken Up by Grassroots Groups


Although the state of Wisconsin has a population similar to Minnesota, its prison population is roughly double. This translates into one in thirty-nine people, or 88,920, who are under the supervision of the state’s Department of Corrections. These responsibilities lead to a department budget of $1,290,784,000, which is expected to grow to $2.5 billion by 2019. These expenses contribute to a state budget deficit of two billion dollars. The state’s activities are increasingly under a microscope, as its governor prepares for a run for president.

Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker is expected to announce his presidential campaign next month. In preparation, he and other presidential contenders spoke at a forum hosted by Florida governor Rick Scott. In his speech, Walker discussed the country’s staggering prison population and highlighted his record handling nonviolent criminals. Specifically, he stated, “In our state, we have relatively few [people incarcerated for committing nonviolent offenses] compared to the federal government.” Then, Walker added, “The challenges in terms of people being incarcerated for relatively low offenses is not a significant issue in the state of Wisconsin.”

Sadly, according to many nonprofit organizations across the state, his record, unlike that of other presidential candidates including Ran Paul and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, does not completely match his declarations. Wisconsin’s prison population has more than tripled since the 1990s and its efforts are not cheap. In fact, theDepartment of Corrections budget of $2.315 billion is larger than the university system’s budget of $2.247 billion.

In addition, the state’s incarceration rate for minorities is much larger than all other states. According to one of the state’s largest newspapers, 12.8 percent, or one out of eight African American men between the ages of 18–64 are incarcerated. This rate is nearly double of the nation as a whole, as well as significantly higher than Oklahoma, which incarcerates the second-highest percentage, 9.7 percent. In the county with the largest population, Milwaukee County, over half of African American men in their thirties have served time in state prison.

One of the main reasons is the state’s truth-in-sentencing law introduced by then-legislator Walker. It took effect in December 31, 1999, and is one of the toughest in the nation. It requires all offenders regardless of their crime to serve every day of their sentence. Many other states have truth-in-sentencing laws, but they only apply toviolent crimes.

Another factor is the large number of people re-incarcerated after violating their parole. In 2013, the state sent 8,000 people to prison, and more than half were incarcerated because they broke a rule of their probation. Overall, the state spends more than $100 million a year housing people who violated their parole requirements. According to Mark Rice, who chairs a revocation workgroup for the criminal justicereform organization WISDOM, these offenses include using a computer or cellphone without authorization, entering a bar, borrowing money, or crossing county lines.

WISDOM is a grassroots organization of mostly religious congregations of many denominations advocating on social justice issues. About 160 congregations practicing nineteen different religious traditions participate in the group’s activities. One of their campaigns is 11×15, which fights for reducing the state’s prison population by half to 11,000 by the end of 2015 through the funding of alternatives to incarceration.

Governor Walker has focused resources on alternatives to incarceration that include day reporting centers and mental health and drug courts. These efforts have decreased the number of people incarcerated. Data from the Department of Corrections calculated the state’s recidivism rate of 14.3 percent in 2011—almost half the rate in 2009 of 30.1 percent.

Sadly, even if Wisconsin were able to achieve WISDOM’s goal of 11,000 by 2015, the state would still have a higher incarceration rate than the State of Minnesota.

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Esquire Spread May Be Bellwether in Public Attention to Prisons


Less than 40 years ago, there was a huge shift in crime-related policy. Many believed if we increased the punishments associated with “low level” nonviolent crimes, criminals would be deterred. They were not, and our prison population exploded. Many were poor and unable to post even a $500 bond. The jail population exploded as well. The result: shattered lives and ballooning government deficits. Many believe it is time for a change.

For years, the prison population (excluding celebrity wrongdoers) has been largely invisible in media, but this month, Esquire magazine published a spread of people with their poetry that does not fit the “faceless horde” model. This, we hope, may signal a cultural shift.

On the second Tuesday of every month, a class begins in the basement of a house near the West Side of Chicago. They debate lines and prose. They write poetry full of feelings few have discussed before.

Though the learning is transformative, it isn’t part of a school curriculum. It is lead by a volunteer, Brandon Crockett, and all of the students are former inmates attempting to turn a new page in their lives. Many live in housing provided in the rooms above.

The program is held by St. Leonard’s Ministries, a nonprofit that’s served former inmates for over 60 years. In addition to both temporary and more permanent housing, the organization provides substance abuse treatment, physical and mental health services, and employment training. It serves over three hundred men and women every year. Eighty percent of the men and women completing the program sever the pipeline back to prison and jail, compared to less than 50 percent of all Illinois’ formerly incarcerated.

In the ’90s, few were interested in this impressive success rate, choosing instead to support “three strikes” and other laws extending prison terms for those convicted of nonviolent crimes. Locking them up with little mental health services and fewer employment training programs, the cycle began, and so did spending millions on confining them. Thanks to these practices, many state budgets, including Illinois’, are stuck in the red.

According to a study released earlier this month by the Vera Institute, those in the nation’s jails are more likely to be convicted and to spend time in prison. Even a jail stay of only a couple of days increases the likelihood of broken families and unemployment. Three-quarters of those found guilty are convicted of possession of a small amount of an illegal substance or other low-level nonviolent offenses. Their stay in prison, without access to any of the essential services organization’s like St. Leonard’s provides, costs a minimum of four times more.

Every year, 12 million people are locked up in the nation’s jails. No wonder the MacArthur Foundation, who financially supports the Vera Institute’s work, recently released a request for proposals for a new funding initiative aimed at reducing America’s reliance on incarceration. The five-year, $75 million initiative will fund state and local government programs seeking to develop a more fair and effective justice system.

Breaking the nation’s reliance on jail and prison is the first step. Funding the programs that help these men and women heal and begin living productive lives is the next. To support St. Leonard’s and change the public’s views of those living in prison and jail, Brandon teamed up with world-renowned Chicago photographer Sandro Miller to create an art book of photos and poetry like the excerpt above. The book,Finding Freedom, will become a reality if the Kickstarter campaign launched last week is successful. Miller is best known for his recent project, “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters,” in which he recreated some of history’s most famous portraits using the actor John Malkovich as the subject. It is now running at the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles.

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