It is a tough time to be a parent of a girl in the United States. The recent headlines in the news give conflicting messages on the crime of sexual assault.
On the one hand, we have President Obama signing into law a Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights, which will give more of a voice to victims and protecting rape kits nationwide from destruction.
On the other, we have a Presidential candidate discussing grabbing women by their private parts, which, if done without consent, is a crime in all 50 states.
In the middle — several high profile cases of light sentences given to convicted rapists, as well as a movie director Nate Parker who is unapologetic for his acquittal in a rape case nearly two decades ago.
With all of these issues swirling around, what do we tell our daughters about sexual assault? How do we protect them?
Sentencing decisions by some judges in recent months have sent a deafening message: the perpetrator’s future is more important than the victim’s trauma. In California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and even Canada, stories have been released regarding the incredibly low sentences in relation to depraved acts.
The narrative is the same.
She was drunk
She didn’t respond.
He’s not a bad kid
He has a future
When we discuss mass incarceration/over incarceration, we can’t lose the basic fact that violent offenses need to be punished accordingly. A theft should not be treated the same as a robbery with force.
A sexual assault is a violent act, based not in desire but in the need to dominate and hurt .
As I examine the Stanford University (California) rape case, my heart breaks for the young woman who was so horribly violated. Her life will never be the same. Her letter lays out the classics symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder from a traumatic event; I hope that she is getting the therapy and support she needs for the long road of rebuilding her life.
But there are additional victims in this case as well. The witnesses are victims as well. We often forget that witnessing a crime is traumatic. Often actors in the criminal justice system become immune. I’ve come to that painful realization by noticing the dark, cynical jokes we tell to diffuse a situation. I can look at autopsy photos while eating a sandwich (not preferable mind you, but time is often of the essence). However, the average person is not equipped to deal with such an experience. I look at the two brave young men who rescued the Stanford survivor, pinning down her rapist Brock Turner. The men were students from Sweden, who came to our country to work on their Masters degrees. They, no doubt, were enjoying California and the rich academic environment at Stanford…until that fateful night. That night, their innocence was shattered. So much so that when the police tried to talk to them about what they witnessed, one of the men was crying uncontrollably.
What is also disturbing to me is after the publicity the Stanford case garnered, a similar situation occurred in Colorado this August. Yet again, a campus rape, this time at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Yet again, a light sentence; 2 years of work release followed by 20 years of probation. The reason given by the judge? Because the defendant “has a future“. What about herfuture?
Also in August, a judge in Massachusetts sentenced a young man sexually assaulted TWO women to two years probation.His lawyer calls the defendant’s actions “a mistake”.
The defendant inserted his fingers into two women while they were sleeping.
I fail to see the mistake in that.
In Canada, it recently came to light that Judge Robin Camp asked a victim “why couldn’t you keep your knees together?” to avoid the rape. He further referred to the victim as “the accused”, and stated that “sex and pain often go together“. I guess he didn’t understand the dynamics of forced sex and violence, even though his own daughter was a victim.
Actors in the system, especially judges, must be aware of implicit bias. It differs from racism in that it is not a deliberate act against an ethnic group; but assumptions as to who belongs in prison and who does not can unfairly affect the decision making process.If two similarly situated individuals of different races would not receive the same sentence, there is a huge problem. That same concept of implicit bias applies to who can be a victim, or what is viewed as a “legitimate” rape.
Going back to the Stanford case, the judge has since transferred to the civil division. This is good, because there is clearly a disconnect in believing 6 months (with credit for time served effectively reducing it to 3 months) is appropriate for raping an unconscious woman. His lack of documented criminal history is not the beginning and end of his recidivism risk. One must look at the manner in which the crime was committed. The level of depravity — seeing someone vulnerable, becoming aroused, and attacking — shows the instincts of a sexual predator. The statements of the defendant’s father referring to“20 minutes of action” shows that he was raised in a household that condoned this type of behavior. If he lacks the moral compass to understand his behavior was wrong, his risk of recidivism increases even more. Additionally, it has come to light that the defendant repeatedly lied to officials, claiming that the crime was “consensual” in order to get a lesser sentence.
The latest debate around sexual assault involves Birth of a Nation director Nate Parker. In college, he and friend Jean Celestin were accused of raping a fellow student. They were tried; Parker was acquitted and Celestin was convicted, with the conviction later overturned. The prosecution declined to try the case again due to issues in locating witnesses 5 years later. Parker has been asked repeatedly about the incident, and refuses to apologize, stating he was falsely accused.
To be clear, false reports in sexual assault cases hover at 7%, but more importantly, 63% of assaults go unreported. What are we doing to change that number?
Not believing the victim is a hurdle, especially when alcohol is involved. Nate Parker was acquitted, making him legally innocent. He is not guilty, which means the prosecution couldn’t prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.Does that mean he is factually innocent? Maybe. Maybe not. The victim maintained until her death by her own hand that this crime occurred. He says he was falsely accused.
Was he part of the 7%? Someone has to be.
All we know is the tragedy that ensued on the victim’s side. She went through the worst case scenario — she told her story but was not believed. This is the deepest fear of all victims.
So what do we tell our girls? I have previously written on this topic: travel in groups when attending college parties, and take care of each other, especially if one of the group is heavily intoxicated. Try to always keep your wits about you. And if the worst case scenario happens — speak up immediately! Despite some judges who don’t sentence appropriately, the majority do. The only way to change perceptions and attitudes towards sexual assault is for victims to come forward. Yes, it is a risk — but silence will not bring justice. We have to support victims/survivors, letting them know that they are safe in telling their story. By victim blaming, we are sending a message to other women not to speak out.
No matter what, rape is not the victim’s fault. It is due to the actions of a defendant — the same way getting murdered is not the victim’s fault. We must make sure our girls understand this.
And for our men and boys — here is a simple British video that summarizes everything you need to know about sex. Just remember — unconscious people do not want tea. Or sex.
I was recently interviewed by Fusion on my path to becoming a senior African American prosecutor. In examining the criminal justice system as a whole, it is extremely important that all of the actors (judges, police, defense attorneys and prosecutors) reflect the community they serve. The article revealed some disturbing statistics; in addition to the previously reported statistic by the Women’s Donor Network that 95% of elected prosecutors are white men, Fusion found:
In counties in the U.S. where people of color represent between 50% and 60% of the population, only 19% of prosecutors are prosecutors of color.
In counties where people of color represent between 80% and 90% percent of the population, only 53% of the prosecutors are prosecutors of color.
Only in places where 90% of the population are people of color does the prosecutor pool reflect the diversity of the community.
Overall, in the 276 counties in the U.S. where people of color represent the majority of the population, only 42%, or less than half, of the prosecutors in these counties are prosecutors of color.
This is why I am tireless in my efforts to bring more people of color into the career of prosecution.
Melba Pearson, a past president of the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA), is a woman of color and an assistant state attorney in Miami. She didn’t fully realize how powerful the role of prosecutor was until she became one — somewhat by chance.
Growing up, Pearson was pressed by her father to study the civil rights movement. He noted that heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. were able to accomplish their work partly because “they had amazing defense attorneys to get them out of jail,” she said. “That’s something really ingrained in me since I was young.”
My latest vlog post on the recent police shootings, and the continuing controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the National Anthem. References to the incidents I discuss in this vlog are below; please leave your comments!
I’m starting a #TBT (aka Throwback Thursday) series to share past posts that are relevant today. It was pretty crazy to realize I have shared 175 posts in the last 3 years on The Resident Legal Diva. The recurring themes of race, criminal justice, and living together as Americans are close to my heart.
So in light of my piece on Colin Kaepernick, and the debates we are having as a result of his actions as well as the elections, please take a look at my multi part series from 2014 “Knowledge Trumps Racism“. More importantly, I’ll start you at the end of the series, written on MLK day of 2015, which talks about standing up for what you believe in.
Being first generally means the most important, the most significant; it sets the tone for what is to follow. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment is integral to our Constitution and our fabric of our nation. Wars were fought to protect the Constitution as it stands. But there’s a funny thing about the First Amendment; folks forget that freedom of speech really means just that ― the freedom to express yourself however you see fit. As long as it is not coupled with an illegal act, or the possibility harming another person (the proverbial yelling fire in a crowded theater), then the speech is permissible.
So this makes the controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner is very interesting to me.
A historic Harlem and American landmark is in danger due to gentrification. African American poet Langston Hughes’ home is in danger of being sold to developers. Several media outlets released the story this week, including Essence, News One and CNN. The effort to save this historic building is being led by local artists Renee Watson and the I, Too Collective. The current owner of the space, while wishing to sell, does not want to see the home fall prey to the gentrification trend that has been occurring in Harlem — turning beautiful old spaces into coffee shops and high priced condos. The artists wish to turn the home into an art and performance space, letting Hughes inspire yet another generation of creatives.They are working on raising $150,000 to rent the space via an internet campaign on Indiegogo.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a pioneering poet, playwright and writer, who was active during the Harlem Renaissance. He was the voice of the average African American at the time, using his pen to record pain and injustice. Hughes’ work was written for the average person, not just for the elite. He promoted young writers and poets, giving many generations a voice as well as an outlet for their creativity. You may learn more about him through a great piece by the Bio Channel.
One poem of his that I find timeless and inspiring is “I Look at the World”
Even though his Harlem residence was given landmark status, the residence is still up for sale.
What is distressing to me is what is happening to Harlem in general.
Harlem to me as a New Yorker was the Apollo Theatre, a great place to get my hair done, to get African fabrics and hair supplies off of 125th. It’s the mecca for African American history in the North, which is where I hail from.
I knew it was bad when I went during Thanksgiving of 2012. My husband and I were meeting friends at an African restaurant in Harlem – and I noticed on my phone that the area was being referred to as “Manhattan Valley”
I said what the H? That area is straight up Harlem, why are folks renaming it?
There is only one reason – re-branding, and making the area more attractive to buyers. In the process, erase the rich history of the Cotton Club, Apollo Theater, and Frederick Douglass Blvd, and make it something completely new.
A recent New York Times article detailed what I was seeing in my last trip to Harlem in 2012 — historic sites were being demolished, and long time residents were being pushed out for the sake of “progress”.
It’s insulting and upsetting.
Progress need not come with the destruction of history.
The same way we save Abraham Lincoln’s home and other treasures of American History, we must save Harlem and what made it critical to our cultural growth as a nation.
We need to save our history, because Black History is intertwined with American history.
I donated to the Indiegogo campaign — if you want to preserve American history, please do so by donating here!
May I have your attention please? May I have your attention please? Will the real Slim Shady please stand up? I repeat will the real Slim Shady please stand up? We’re going to have a problem here
Lyrics from “The Real Slim Shady” by Eminem
Will the real swimshady please stand up?
Although the lights have dimmed and the closing ceremonies have finished, the amazing accomplishments by the athletes in the last week have been overshadowed by a drama of Olympic sized proportions.
Ryan Lochte and three other swimmers, spun a tale of robbery in Rio which turned out to be completely false. However, the reactions of some on social media call into question where we are as a country.
Let’s put this in context. During the week, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas didn’t raise her hand to her heart during the National Anthem after she received her team gold medal in gymnastics.
No one was harmed. No property was harmed. No lies were told. She apologized for her actions.
Yet her actions were scrutinized to the point of sickness. The “we gave you a chance” narrative became front and center on social media, and she was accused of being “ungrateful”.
Hello, she earned it!! No one “gives” you a place in sports. You have to shed blood, sweat and tears to get a spot. Gabby gave up everything she knew — her town, her family and her time — to qualify for the US Olympic team.
By comparison, Ryan Lochte made the similar sacrifices and won gold. Yet he lied and entered into conduct unbecoming of an athlete. In a drunken episode with his friends, he urinated on the side of a gas station, and trashed a door. He then told the media and Brazilian law enforcement that he was robbed at gunpoint, even going so far as to say the gunman put the firearm to his temple.
If you look at the surveillance video from the night in question, it is clear that he and his companions are intoxicated. They did not even return to the correct taxicab after vandalizing the gas station property. A man comes up to the cab, and it appears that he orders them to get out. They exit, with wallets out, as if to compensate for the damages.
He has since issued an apology, in which he still paints himself as a victim because he was held at gunpoint after committing a crime.
Whelp, that’s kind of what happens when you get arrested or detained.
Lochte urinated on Brazil literally and figuratively. He destroyed property and lied about it, assuming that everyone would believe his tale of being a victim of violence in a beleaguered 3rd world country. Purportedly this story broke because he told his mother a lie, his mother called the media out of fear/concern, and he continued the lie when asked by authorities in Brazil.
As a grown man, he should have known how his mother would have reacted. There are stories that my mother went to her grave not knowing about my escapades, simply because I knew that she would panic or react in a certain way. If Lochte had exercised this discernment, he would not have had this problem.
Even if he decided to lie to his mother, when asked by Brazilian authorities, he could have told them that this was a family misunderstanding, no robbery occurred, and end it there. He did not. To be clear, he was sober at this juncture. This is another moment of poor judgement.
All of these moments of poor judgement add up to a criminal offense (as often happens).
His lapse of judgement is treated by some as a harmless “boys will be boys” prank. Most boys don’t commit crime. And FYI at 32, Lochte is not a boy. His criminal actions threaten to overshadow all of the amazing work that Team USA has done at the Olympics in Rio. Granted, there is an argument to be made that it is not the worst Olympic scandal in history (Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan come to mind), but it is pretty close.
In the United States, falsifying a police report is a misdemeanor in most states, subject to a fine or a short jail sentence of less than a year. It is a crime in Brazil as well, likely subject to similar penalties.
What disturbs me is the vitriol Gabby Douglas endured as a result of her actions, while there is a willingness to look past Lochte’s criminal behavior. There have been some interesting articles on this that I would like to share, by Emma Gray at the Huffington Post, and one by Charise Frazier at NewsOne.
I was approached as then President of the National Black Prosecutors Association to write an article for this collaborative project between the Marshall Project and Vice. It’s important to note, in a world where 95% of elected prosecutors are white, that diversity is a critical issue, especially in the upper echelons of the profession. As we explore criminal justice reform, issues in policing and lifting up communities of color, it is even morecritical that prosecutors reflect the communities they serve.
“The only way to help your people is to be a defense attorney.”
My father was the first to tell me that, but definitely not the last.
He went on to explain that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and all the civil-rights leaders of the 1960s had great lawyers to call whenever they got jailed for protesting. Without these lawyers, my dad explained, African Americans would never have advanced toward equality.
When I was in college and law school, I was also told that as a black woman, the only way to look out for “my people” and defend the Constitution was to become a defense attorney — and more specifically a public defender.
I followed that path, interning with the Legal Aid Society in New York City while I was an undergrad. A couple of the attorneys I met there formed their own shop, and I later interned for them during law school. But during my final year, I got an offer to become a prosecutor in Florida.