Legal Momentum News Brief - April/May 2017

Legal Momentum News Brief - April/May 2017

May 17, 2017 - 16:00 -- Jean Gazis
May 17, 2017

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Rights Now! Program Launches to Empower Young Women and Girls of Color 

Legal Momentum is a proud partner in New York’s City’s Young Women’s Initiative (YWI), an innovative empowerment movement that fosters young women of color to become leaders in their communities and beyond. As part of the YWI, Legal Momentum received a grant from the New York City Council to start to roll out its exciting “Rights Now!” program in the city. Rights Now! focuses on imparting knowledge about our rights in plain language in a proactive way. In New York City the new Rights Now! training curriculum teaches young women about healthy relationships that are free from sexual harassment, bullying, sexual assault, and other forms of violence. It also focuses on cyber-abuse, and provides young women with legal “know your rights” information. Peer educators will work with Legal Momentum staff at trainings and workshops citywide. The new curriculum will be available free of charge through Legal Momentum’s website and partners. We will also help victims of assaults at school to get time off, defer tests and deadlines, get counseling, and ensure that their rights are protected in school hearings.

girl holding YWI initiative sign

TV News Investigative Reports Feature Legal Momentum's Lawsuits to Protect Vulnerable Children

Legal Momentum President and CEO Carol Robles-Román appeared on 7 on Your Side  on WJLA ABC 7 (Washington, D.C.) on May 17 to talk about how Backpage.com facilitates online sexual exploitation of young girls. Countering the First Amendment absolutist defense that Backpage apologists like the Center for Democracy and Technology espouse, Carol stated: "There is an implication for free speech—you cannot sell children online. That's the implication."

Full Measure is a weekly Sunday news program hosted by Emmy award-winner Sharyl Attkisson that focuses on investigative, original, and accountability reporting. It airs on local news stations nationwide and streams live online Sunday mornings. Legal Momentum President and CEO Carol Robles-Román appeared on the May 7 episode to talk about how Backpage.com facilitates trafficking. This followed an April 23 report on sex trafficking that featured a survivor’s story.

“These are young kids, these are minors, and there’s no justification. There’s no way to defend it,” Carol told reporter Lisa Fletcher.

Carol Robles-Román with Lisa Fletcher

Carol was also interviewed by Pablo Gutierrez, reporter for T47 Investiga, a new investigative reporting feature on the Spanish-language Telemundo 47 WNJU (New Jersey) evening news hour. Mr. Gutierrez talked with Carol about Legal Momentum’s lawsuits against online trafficking site Backpage.com. The broadcast is expected to air sometime in May.

Legal Momentum Op-Ed in NY Daily News: We Must Stop Cyber-Violence

Legal Momentum Executive Vice President and Legal Director Penny Venetis wrote an op-ed piece, “Winning the fight against sextortion: How to combat a growing plague that especially targets girls and young women,” for the New York Daily News in response to its report on a current case of sextortion in New York City, “Man posing as teen extorted porn out of young girls, authorities allege.” The op-ed points out how the law has not kept pace with the explosion of the internet and social media that make it easy for sexual predators to reach children electronically. The piece discusses Legal Momentum’s work to educate the public and encourage legislation to update antiquated laws. The op-ed concluded, “Working together, we can stop predators from sexually exploiting digitally savvy children, and help law enforcement arrest and prosecute sextorters as sex offenders.”

Action→ Download  Legal Momentum's Report and Tip Sheet on preventing sextortioin.

Sy Syms Foundation Supports Legal Momentum’s Helpline

The Sy Syms Foundation has awarded Legal Momentum a new two-year, $50,000 grant to further Legal Momentum’s ongoing programs and outreach to combat discrimination against girls and women, and to educate the community about gender-based civil rights. The funding will enable Legal Momentum to continue staffing our Helpline, which responds to 1,500 requests for immediate assistance each year. Most of the requests for help that we receive involve employment discrimination (22%), campus sexual assault (18%), domestic violence (16%), and child custody (15%). With the new funding, Legal Momentum will continue to have the in-house ability to file emergency legal actions for injunctive relief on behalf of women, immigrants, and girls who are being discriminated against, or are in imminent danger. These legal actions not only help the victims, but also establish legal precedent for other lawyers and advocates to use to assist similarly situated victims of hate and discrimination. 

Speaking Out to End Online Exploitation of Young Girls

Trust Conference Americas Forum

On April 25, Legal Momentum President and CEO Carol Robles-Román presented at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s “Trust Conference Americas Forum” at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The Trust Conference’s goal is to find real solutions to human rights violations, including modern day slavery. Besides the 250 in-person attendees, tens of thousands more viewed the event live online.

Carol described the impact of Legal Momentum’s current lawsuits against Backpage.com in Arizona and Florida, saying “We’re filing suit to amplify the voices of many, in addition to individual plaintiffs.” She also discussed new legislation that criminalizes sextortion in Utah and Arkansas, and our collaboration with the producers of the acclaimed film, “I Am Jane Doe.” She thanked our pro-bono partners and encouraged the audience of leading anti-trafficking activists and experts to support our stakeholders’ alliance. As Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO Monique Villa said, “Together, we can take action to solve some of the world’s most critical human rights issues and bring real change to those most in need.“

Action→ Watch the nine-minute video of Carol’s talk. You can also view the original action proposal video from the 2016 Trust Women Conference and pledge your support at http://ow.ly/eKzl30bbQZu.

Carol Robles-Román and Arianna Roman

University of Pennsylvania Law School Event

On April 17, Legal Momentum’s Executive Vice President and Legal Director, Penny Venetis, spoke about Legal Momentum’s lawsuits on behalf of a “Jane Doe,” Florida Abolitionist, and Sojourner Center against the online trafficking website Backpage.com. The conference was hosted by the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice, and Research at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia. The event, Research on Human Trafficking among Homeless Youth; New Findings and Implications for Policy and Practice, presented findings from a survey of more than 1,000 homeless youth from across the country showing the correlation between child sex trafficking and youth homelessness. 

Penn Law panel with Penny Venetis and others

National Judicial Education Program & Florida Courts Partner on Gender Bias in Sexual Assault Cases 

Webinar Series for Florida Judges

Legal Momentum’s National Judicial Education Program (NJEP) has teamed up with Florida’s Office of State Courts Administrator to present a series of educational lunchtime “brown bag” webinars for Florida judges. Lynn Hecht Schafran, NJEP Director, and Jennifer Becker, Staff Attorney, presented the first webinar in the series, Judges Tell: What I Wish I Had Known Before I Presided in an Adult Victim Sexual Assault Case on March 28. The webinar was based on NJEP’s widely-used publication of the same name, available free on our website, and used an interactive “myth versus fact” format to teach judges about commonly held stereotypes and misconceptions that can undermine the judicial process. On April 25, Lynn presented the second webinar in the series, Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse: The Hidden Dimension of Domestic Violence. This webinar is based on content from NJEP’s free, interactive web course Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse: Adjudicating This Hidden Dimension of Domestic Violence Cases and covers issues such as the severe impact of intimate partner sexual abuse, its implications for courts, how the law itself often undermines victim safety, how to create a court environment in which victims feel safe disclosing intimate partner sexual abuse, and more. The third and final webinar in the series will take place on May 31, when Jennifer will present on Medical Forensic Sexual Assault Examinations: What Are They, and What Can They Tell the Courts?

Sexual Assault-Related Trainings at Indiana Statewide Conference

In December 2016, Staff Attorney Jennifer Becker gave a webinar on effective implementation of multidisciplinary responses to sexual assault cases. As a result of attending that webinar, the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Coordinator for the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault asked Jennifer to assist in developing their inaugural statewide sexual assault conference. Jennifer and NJEP Director Lynn Hecht Schafran attended the conference in Indianapolis and, on April 11, gave a joint keynote presentation on the topic of “the importance of diverse team-building.” That same day, Jennifer gave a presentation about multidisciplinary responses to sexual assault cases within the framework of Indiana law, and Lynn gave a presentation about the infiltration and impact of gender bias in sexual assault cases and the decision-making of sexual assault response teams. The conference was attended by more than 100 prosecutors, law enforcement professionals, victim advocates, and sexual assault forensic nurse examiners, including the team in charge of rape prevention for the state’s prisons. 

2017 Women of Achievement Honored in San Francisco

the honorees with signs

Legal Momentum’s 12th Annual Women of Achievement Awards Dinner at the InterContinental Hotel in San Francisco on March 22 was once again a rousing success. Six outstanding women were honored by an enthusiastic gathering of 350 people. Present and past honorees were awarded personalized jean jackets, courtesy of generous sponsor Levi Strauss.

  • Mary A. Francis, Corporate Secretary & Chief Governance Officer, Chevron Corporation
  • Susan Marsch, Senior Vice President & Deputy General Counsel, Flex Ltd.
  • Michele Coleman Mayes, Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary, The New York Public Library (Distinguished Service Award)
  • Mary O'Hara, Chief Human Resources Officer and Senior VP Internal Communications, Blue Shield of California;
  • Jennifer Pileggi, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary, Zuora, Inc.
  • Caren Ulrich Stacy, Chief Executive Officer, Diversity Lab & OnRamp Fellowship

A new video overview of Legal Momentum’s important work and focus areas was shown at the dinner.

Action→ If you were not able to attend the event, but would like to make a contribution, go to www.legalmomentum.org/contribute and put “WOA2017” in the comment field on the donation form.

Preserving Vital Violence Against Women Act Program Funding

Rallying with NOW-NY in New York City

On March 20, the National Organization for Women—New York (NOW-NY) hosted a press conference at Bowling Green in downtown Manhattan to kick off their “Take Rape Seriously NOW” campaign, aimed at fighting back against the current Administration’s anti-women agenda and the threats to funding for programs under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Legal Momentum was instrumental in drafting and passing VAWA in the early 1990s and has helped draft  each subsequent reauthorization. VAWA transformed the way society views domestic violence. Thanks to VAWA, domestic violence and intimate partner violence are crimes. VAWA has served as a model for similar laws around the world. Legal Momentum Staff Attorney Jennifer Becker spoke at the press conference about the tremendous impact of VAWA and the importance of continuing funding for its numerous programs that are crucial to the well-being of survivors of gender-based violence and that also help law enforcement hold perpetrators accountable. NOW-NY president Sonio Ossorio was the main speaker.

Jennifer Becker addressing NOW-NY rally

Supporting Bipartisan Efforts in Congress

As a co-leader of the National Task Force to End Domestic and Sexual Violence against Women (NTF), Legal Momentum has joined with more than 900 other organizations to urge the leadership of the House and Senate appropriations committees to increase funding for VAWA, Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FPVSA), and Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) programs in Fiscal Year 2018. The letter delivered to Senators Shelby, Shaheen, Blunt, and Murray, and Representatives Culberson, Serrano, Cole, and DeLauro states, “The importance of funding for these programs in FY 18 continues to grow… Our nation’s progress in understanding and addressing sexual and domestic violence is a result of our national, ongoing, annual investment.” It points out the considerable savings in averted costs to society and the significant decrease in rates of non-fatal domestic and dating violence against women that have resulted from these crucial programs.

Action→ We urge all our supporters to contact your legislators in support of continued funding for VAWA and other crucial programs that support survivors of domestic and sexual violence and help to hold perpetrators accountable. 

Educating Student Activists about Campus Sexual Assault

On April 3, Legal Momentum Staff Attorney Caitlin McCartney spoke at the “Spring Week of Action” sponsored by the Sarah Lawrence College chapter of It’s On Us. The Spring Week of Action is a nationwide campaign to shift the way we think and talk about sexual assault. Events were organized by members of the chapter and were open to the entire campus community. Caitlin’s presentation was on “Know Your Rights,” as It’s On Us members noticed that many students are not familiar with the laws and school policies surrounding sexual assault on campus.

“The law can be an important tool for victims of sexual harassment and violence,” Caitlin said. “The burden should be on the perpetrator when at all possible. It shouldn’t be on the victim.” She added, “If you’re in a class and someone cheats on your paper and you report it to your professor, it’s not going to be you proving why the student should be expelled.”

Legal Momentum recommends schools do several things that they may not already be doing in cases of sexual assault, based on the guidance that interprets Title IX. These include providing safety and educational accommodations for victims, withholding a diploma from the accused perpetrator until the case is complete, and banning a non-student perpetrator from campus to prevent additional assaults.

Screenings of “I Am Jane Doe” Bring Attention to Online Exploitation of Young Girls

Legal Momentum Board Chair Elaine Wood hosted a private screening of “I Am Jane Doe,” the acclaimed documentary about online sex trafficking of teen girls, at the offices of Duff and Phelps on April 18. Florida Abolitionist will host a screening of the film in Orlando this spring. (The anti-trafficking organization is a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits brought by Legal Momentum and pro-bono partner Boies, Schiller, Flexner against Backpage.com for its facilitation of online sex trafficking.) The film features Legal Momentum’s Carol Robles-Román, Penny Venetis, and renowned lawyer David Boies, as well as girls who were advertised on Backpage.com and their parents. Additional screenings by Legal Momentum coalition partners took place recently in Connecticut and California. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

“I Am Jane Doe” is now available oiTunesAmazonGoogle Play &  Vimeo

50% of all profits will be donated to organizations serving Jane Doe children.

Also coming to Netflix May 26!

 

Working with the National Association of Women Lawyers

Carol Robles-Román was a featured speaker at two separate events sponsored by the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL). Carol is a member of the NAWL board of directors. On March 28, Carol moderated the NAWL Book Club discussion of Equal Means Equal: Why the Time for an Equal Rights Amendment Is Now, with author Jessica Neuwirth. The book club is held monthly by telephone conference and is open to non-members.

On April 20, Carol was a panelist at NAWL’s “Women in Politics” program at the offices of law firm DLA Piper LLP in New York City. The panel of prominent women discussed their personal stories, why women need to run for office, what it’s like to be in public service, and what women can do to become involved. 

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