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A disturbing number of police departments across the country are routinely downgrading or dismissing rape cases, according to testimony at a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing.
Chaired by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, the subcommittee session focused on what it said was “The chronic failure (of police departments) to report and investigate rape cases.”
In his testimony, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, formerly the Police commissioner of Washington, D.C., also characterized the situation as a “pervasive failure” on the part of law enforcement.
Witnesses from the legal, law enforcement, medical and social services fields told the panel 20 million women — or 18 percent of all females in the country — have been victims of rape and that only 18 percent of rapes are even reported to police.
Speakers emphasized that the victimized individuals who make up that 18 percent often don’t have an easy time of it as their stories are dismissed as “unfounded” and their cases are downgraded from felonies to misdemeanors.
The Philadelphia-based Women’s Law Project executive director Carol Tracy said newspaper investigations and reports from St. Louis, New Orleans, New York, Baltimore, Cleveland and Ohio documented officers misclassifying or “unfounding” a large percentage of all rape complaints they received.
“When 45 cities with populations over 100,000 have unfounded rates of rape over 20 percent, there’s something very wrong,” she said.
“The statistics are staggering,” said Specter.
Two sexual assault victims testified at the hearing; their contrasting stories highlighted the importance of law enforcement agencies providing appropriately sensitive support to such traumatized individuals.
Julie Weil of Florida was treated for her physical and mental health following her rape, and investigators stayed on her case until her attacker was brought to justice. Sara Reedy of Pennsylvania said she was further victimized by a local detective who arrested her for theft and filing a false police report. She said she was cleared soon after when her attacker was caught and confessed to a series of rape incidents including her own.
This disparity, said Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, demonstrates why is important to have a new national sex crime reporting system that can help to police the way police departments handle rape cases.
“One of the most important functions of the Senate is to provide oversight,” he said. “Whether the laws are being enforced, whether agencies are pursuing the cases, whether victims are being properly acknowledged. That’s why we’re having this hearing, to make sure the system is working right.”
In Cardin’s home base of Baltimore, a recent newspaper investigation found that a full third of reported rape cases were dismissed – the highest rate of dismissals of any city in the country.
“The Baltimore Sun put a spotlight on this and as a result there was action,” Cardin said. “But we want to make sure this is a priority in every jurisdiction around the country.”
Investigative reporting also served to shed light on the problem in Philadelphia, where a series by the Philadelphia Inquirer resulted in changes in personnel and procedures.
Police Commissioner Ramsey told the hearing he does see improvement. Of the many changes he made to address the Philadelphia crisis, he says the most effective was working with the Women’s Law Project and other women’s groups.
“I firmly believe that partnerships between law enforcement agencies and victim advocacy counterparts are absolutely essential in addressing some of the most pressing issues that confront us,” he said.
Now, groups like the Women’s Law Project can audit Pennsylvania police records and request the reopening of cases that have been deemed “unfounded.”
But Tracy sees much more work to be done.
“It should not be the responsibility of investigative reporters to look at this,” she said. “The [Uniform Crime Reporting Program of the FBI] is not exercising their audit responsibility.”
In her testimony she called on Congress to require a regular FBI audit of police practices to ensure rape cases are being properly reported and investigated, and to update and broaden the legal definition of rape that has been on the books since 1927.
Specter said focusing on the terminology was a good first step.
“The definition of rape which is being used by the FBI is antiquated, not inclusive, as to where it ought to be,” he said.
He promised that his Judiciary Subcommittee would communicate with the FBI about the issue.
There has been some increase in the number of women accessing antenatal healthcare services in Yemen over the past four years, but most mothers still deliver at home and their health situation remains rather bleak, according to new reports from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The proportion of women benefiting from antenatal healthcare services has increased from 40 to 55 percent over the past four years, according to an 18 May Health Ministry report covering 2006-2010.
At a conference in Sanaa on 18 May sponsored by the National Women’s Committee and the Health Ministry, some women’s rights activists criticized slow progress in antenatal healthcare coverage.
UN Population Fund (UNFPA) deputy representative Zeljka Mudrovcic said 22 women die in Yemen every day due to pregnancy and birth-related complications.
“As 80 percent of women deliver at home, much more needs to be done to improve antenatal health care for women and reduce high mother and infant mortality rates,” she said.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, supported by UNFPA, launched on 17 May the distribution of 30,000 clean and safe home delivery kits for the year 2010 in an effort to improve this situation.
According to WHO’s 10 May World Health Statistics 2010 report, [http://www.who.int/whosis/whostat/2010/en/index.html] Yemen’s maternal mortality rate was 430 cases per 100,000 live births, the highest in the Middle East.
Antenatal care coverage (“the percentage of women who used antenatal care provided by skilled health personnel for reasons related to pregnancy at least once during pregnancy, as a percentage of live births in a given time period”) was 47 percent – the lowest in the Middle East, according to the report.
Repeated miscarriages and post-natal bleeding – particularly among girls in rural areas – are among the major factors behind the high maternal mortality rate in the country, according to Nema Naser al-Suraimi, a specialist doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology at al-Thawra Hospital in Sanaa. “In rural areas, miscarriage is commonplace, particularly as 52 percent of girls marry before the age of 15,” she told IRIN.
Yemen’s adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 years) stands at 80, according to the WHO report.
“In many remote villages where health facilities don’t exist or are very far away, many women die inside cars on their way to [maternity] hospitals in provincial capitals,” al-Suraimi said. “Women in rural areas don’t receive basic health care from the beginning of pregnancy and therefore are prone to multiple birth-related complications.”
According to Mohamed Ghurab, another obstetrics and gynaecology specialist at the Sanaa-based Republican Hospital, 70-80 percent of maternal deaths can be avoided by raising public awareness of the risks of home delivery.
Measure Would Deter Pregnant Women From Seeking Medical Care
Brazil’s Congress should protect women’s dignity and human rights by rejecting a bill that confers extensive rights to fertilized ova, Human Rights Watch have said. The measure would give the rights of the fertilized ovum “absolute priority” under Brazilian law.
The proposed bill would require any act or omission that could in any way have a negative impact on a fertilized ovum to be considered illegal. The bill was voted favorably out of the Family and Social Security Commission of the Brazilian House of Representatives this month.
“To promote healthy pregnancies and births is a laudable goal and, indeed, one of Brazil’s human rights obligations,” said Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. “But this bill is likely to cause more harm than good by deterring pregnant women from seeking the care they may need because they are afraid to be turned over to the police.”
Over the past year, a number of jurisdictions in Latin America have passed laws to confer some rights on fertilized ova. For example, in Mexico, a number of federal states have recently amended their constitutions to extend the protection of the right to life to “the conceived.” Many of these laws specifically protect earlier legal exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or where the life or health of the pregnant woman is threatened.
Brazil’s bill however goes further. For example, it extends the right to child support to ova that have been fertilized through rape, and seeks to give “absolute priority” to the rights of the fertilized ovum. This could lead to the criminalization of any act or omission thought to affect the fertilized ovum negatively, trumping the rights to life or health of any pregnant woman, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Brazilian government would do well to focus its attention on providing assistance to rape victims, adolescent mothers, and others who are vulnerable and potentially unable to provide for themselves,” Mollmann said. “This law does the absolute opposite by threatening to subject everything women do or do not do during a pregnancy to criminal investigation.”
Eight of the bottom 10-ranked countries in Save the Children’s annual Mothers Index, which ranks the best and worst places to be a mother, are in sub-Saharan Africa, says the NGO. [http://www.savethechildren.net/alliance/what_we_do/every_one/news.html]
Afghanistan, Niger, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Sudan, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea form the bottom 10; while Norway, Australia, Iceland and Sweden come top.
One in seven women dies in pregnancy or childbirth in Niger and one in eight in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone; while the risk is one in 25,000 in Greece and one in 47,600 in Ireland. [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=75869; http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=87198; http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=88280]
“The problems around maternal and newborn health have been raised for many years, but there still remains so much to be done,” Houleyemata Diarra, Save the Children’s newborn health regional adviser for Africa, told IRIN from Mali. “There are not enough skilled attendants at births, and governments are not taking into account where health workers are needed – in communities.”
Over half of deliveries take place at home in most sub-Saharan African countries, with no skilled birth attendant present, according to the UN Children’s Fund. [http://www.unicef.org/sowc09/]
Save the Children is calling on governments and donors to prioritize building up a workforce of female health workers to serve in their communities and local clinics.
These workers should be incentivized with better training, pay, and support for career growth, says the NGO.
It costs a lot to train a doctor or run a hospital, but the cost of giving community health workers basic training – to diagnose and treat common early childhood illnesses, organize vaccinations and promote good nutrition and newborn care – does not have to be exorbitant, says Save the Children.
In Bangladesh the NGO found that providing female community health-workers with six weeks of hands-on training and some formal education caused infant mortality rates in affected areas to drop by a third.
“There are a lot of models of this working well around the world,” said Save the Children’s Diarra. “African countries need to follow these examples.”
The Alliance of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with the vulnerable population has directed its concern to the direction of women’s rights in the country.
The Alliance is also in the vanguard of advocating the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) and has also focused its attention on how women can be motivated to play key roles in the forthcoming 2011 general and presidential elections.
The Alliance Secretary General, Daniel B. Wehyee, told participants at the opening of a recent four-day workshop on “women empowerment, an action worth taking” that its new strategy is how to incorporate human rights as a basic component for PLWHA.
According to Wehyee, women are the most vulnerable, and therefore serious attention needs to be placed on them through their empowerment.
“In the advent of 2011, if women are not trained and empowered, the desired result will not be attained in terms of democracy; allowing women the space to exercise their rights democratically,” he observed.
Wehyee called on the government and its partners to empower women generally as well as those with HIV and AIDS.
Patricia Wayon, a trainer of the Alliance, said owing to lack of knowledge, people fail to understand how to treat people living with HIV and AIDS.
She pointed out that in order to curtail infringement on the rights of women, issues of stigmatization and discrimination need to be tackled.
The six-month project, which gave birth to the four-day workshop held at the conference room of the Liberia Women Empowerment Network in Congo Town, was initiated some four months ago by the Alliance in collaboration with Women Won’t Wait Coalition. It was sponsored by ActionAid Liberia.
Participants included members of civil society, representatives from the disabled community as well as the security sector.
Front Line is deeply saddened by news received of the violent paramilitary attack on a peaceful solidarity campaign in Oaxaca, Mexico, which resulted in the killing of WHRD Bety Cariño as well as an international observer from Finland, Tyri Antero Jaakkola.
Bety Cariño was a participant at the Fifth Dublin Platform which was held by Front Line in February 2010. Bety will be remembered by all in Front Line for her dedication to the defence of human rights in Oaxaca and her courage in continuing to work for the rights of indigenous populations and women and children. Our thoughts and sympathies are with Bety’s family at this difficult time.
You can view Bety’s powerful testimony to the 5th Front Line Dublin which took place in February 2010 and in which she speaks with passionate conviction of the struggle for human rights of all the people of Mexico.
* The testimony of Bety Carino to the 2010 Front Line Dublin Platform
* The translation of Bety’s testimony is attached as a pdf
Front Line has received information from our contacts in Oaxaca about a violent attack on a peaceful solidarity caravan of human rights defenders yesterday, 27 April 2010, as it tried to enter the autonomous indigenous municipality of San Juan Copala. It has been confirmed that at least two human rights defenders have been killed and others remain unaccounted for.
On 27 April 2010, at approximately 14:40, a humanitarian group made up of 30 human rights defenders as well as international observers were on their way to attempt to enter San Juan Copala in order to deliver provisions to indigenous communities who have been under siege by armed groups.
As they entered the community of La Sabana, a town reportedly controlled by paramilitary organisation Unión de Bienestar Social de la Región Triqui UBISORT (Social Welfare Union of the Triqui Region), their vehicles came under fire. Beatríz Alberta (Bety) Cariño Trujillo, of the Centro de Apoyo Comunitario Trabajando Unidos CACTUS (Centre for Community Support Working Together), and Tyri Antero Jaakkola, international observer from Finland, were both killed in the attack.
Noe Bautista Jimenez, David Venegas Reyes and Daniel Arellano Chavez,all members of Voces Oaxaqueñas Construyendo Autonomía y Libertad VOCAL (Voices from Oaxaca for Autonomy and Liberty) remain missing. The three human rights defenders escaped when the attack broke out and it remains unknown whether they were captured by paramilitaries or whether they are in hiding.
One member of the group, Mónica Citlali Santiago Ortiz, was injured in the attack but was able to get to a hospital for medical attention. Those who did not escape and who remained in the vehicles were interrogated by the paramilitaries. Some have reported receiving death threats prior to being released.
UBISORT paramilitaries have reportedly sealed off the area and are refusing entry or exit to anyone, including medical teams and ambulances. There are further reports that the State Police of Oaxaca have refused to enter the area to assist locating those members of the peaceful movement who have not yet been accounted for.
The human rights organisations were attempting to enter San Juan Copala to provide support to the local community who have been without electricity, water, medical access and basic provisions as a result of the ongoing paramilitary blockade. Schools have also been shut down since January 2010.
The caravan of observers included individuals from Finland, Italy, Belgium and Germany, members of the CACTUS, VOCAL, Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, the Red de Radios y omunicadores Indígenas del Sureste Mexicano (Network of Indigenous Radio Stations and Broadcasters of the Southeast of Mexico), as well as a group of teachers from the municipality who have been unable to give classes.
Front Line is gravely concerned by reports of this violent attack on peaceful human rights defenders and the killing of Beatriz Alberta Cariño Trujillo and Tyri Antero Jaakkola. Front Line remains extremely concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of all of the Mexican human rights defenders who make up the group, in particular those whose whereabouts remain unknown, as well as international observers accompanying the solidarity campaign.
The violent attack is directly linked to the peaceful activities of those national and international individuals as they attempted to defend the rights of the local communities affected in areas controlled by paramilitary groups.
Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth told a meeting of international women’s equality rights groups last week that it would be best for them to “shut the f–k up” about their concerns over the government’s maternal health initiative.
Ruth sponsored the meeting on Parliament Hill, in which groups such as the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, Action Aid International and Action Canada for Population and Development participated in a panel discussion questioning Canada’s leadership in the promotion of gender equality and women’s rights.
With the recent controversy about the government’s plans to omit funding for abortion from its maternal health policy for developing countries, the panelists said it was an issue they couldn’t ignore.
However, during the question and answer period, Ruth advised the room that pushing the abortion issue was not the right strategy if they really wanted progress on the maternal health issue. Her comments were caught on tape by the Toronto Star.
“We’ve got five weeks or whatever left until the G8 starts. Shut the f–k up on this issue,” she said. “If you push it, there’ll be more backlash. This is now a political football. This is not about women’s health in this country.”
She went on to say, “Canada is still a country with free and accessible abortion. Leave it there. Don’t make this an election issue.”
Afterward, Ruth was asked about her comments. “I’m not going to repeat them in front of microphones. You gotta be crazy.”
She explained that people are more worried about jobs and mortgages. “To deal with more altruistic things, even though I think we should, is perhaps not relative and not a seller right now.”
“I think it is a mistake to make a public debate about abortion for the G8.”
Liberal MP Dr. Carolyn Bennett said Ruth’s comments shocked the room. Bennett said she thinks Ruth’s advice exposes something the government has denied — that for those who speak out against the government, there will be repercussions.
Funding cuts are one example of a repercussion the groups fear.
But the activists say they won’t be taking Ruth up on her suggestion to keep quiet. Katherine McDonald is executive director of Action Canada for Population and Development.
“The time to speak out is now. If we hadn’t spoken out over the last three months, contraception would not be part of this initiative.”
McDonald is referring to the government’s reversal on its initial announcement that family planning would not be part of the maternal health plan.
Bennett echoed another panelist at the meeting, saying that women in the world didn’t achieve what they have over the years by “shutting up.”
Nigerian women’s groups say they’ll take legal action against a politician who married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl at Nigeria’s national mosque.
Female members of the country’s senate have promised to support a petition to reprimand Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima, 49, the BBC reported Wednesday. Sani married the girl at the mosque in Abuja several weeks ago, the BBC said.
Nigeria’s human rights commission says it will investigate whether the marriage is legal.
Women’s rights groups say Sani has broken the law, citing the Child Rights Act of 2003.
“When you marry them out at this early stage, is it because it is viewed as a commodity that can be easily disposed of and a new one acquired,” Mma Wokocha, the leader of the coalition protesting the marriage, said.
The group wants an investigation into the child’s identity, her age, the circumstances of her entry into Nigeria and the dowry paid to her family, the BBC reported.
Investing in women smallholder farmers is the key to halving hunger and results in twice as much growth as investment in any other sector, a new ActionAid report reveals.
Less than one per cent of the agriculture budget is targeted at women in the three countries researched by ActionAid in its new report Fertile Ground – Malawi, Kenya and Uganda – despite women’s central contribution to the growing of food.
“One billion people going hungry must be a wake-up call that there’s something very wrong with our farming,” said Tennyson Williams, Acting Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Despite recent commitments, donor aid to agriculture is still too little, uncoordinated and arrives too late. It has also been poorly targeted and remains hugely inconsistent with the realities of women’s role in food production.”
At the moment, virtually nothing is being spent on research into crops grown by women, training, credit, early childhood education and access to land, despite food price hikes and shortages likely to worsen as climate change intensifies.
Fertile Ground shows that 2.9 million Ugandans could be lifted out of poverty by 2015 if the country reached a six per cent agricultural growth rate annually.
In Kenya, 1.5 million lives could be improved, if current sums on agriculture rose from 5 to 10 per cent.
In stark contrast, Malawi is one of Africa’s highest spenders on agriculture and as a result food security is better than at any time in recent history. In 2004, 1.5 million people needed food aid while in 2009, this number had dropped to 150,000 people.
ActionAid believes that by scaling up support to smallholders to at least $40 billion per year globally, world leaders can deliver a 50 percent reduction hunger and poverty by 2015 – the most fundamental of the UN Millennium Goals.
Download: Fertile Ground Report