Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Never-Ending Nightmare:
Why We Must Ban Rapists from Seeking Parental Rights Over Children Conceived by Their Crime

By Martha Burwell

Your hands are sweating. Your heart is pounding. You pull your jacket closer around you, against the late winter breeze, as you focus on climbing the stairs, one at a time. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

Every atom in your body is screaming for you to turn and run, to get out of this place. But you can’t. You must keep going. Because in order to keep your child safe, you must finish walking up these stairs and go into the courtroom, where a judge will decide if the father of the child can have visitation, or even—you shudder at the thought—custody.

But this case is different from most custody battles. Because in this case, your child was conceived through rape. And the rapist is waiting for you in the courtroom. 

Unfortunately, with our current laws, dealing with the legal aftermath of rape can be extremely re-traumatizing for the victim. After the horrific violence of the act itself, there’s the rape kit, the police report, filing paperwork, going to court—all part of a lengthy, grating process of getting the rapist convicted, which happens only in 2% of rapes.

And what if the unthinkable happens—what if the woman gets pregnant? (Yes, women can and do get pregnant from rape, despite what dangerously misinformed male politicians may say).

Currently, if a woman keeps the child, which women decide to do in about 30% of pregnancies caused by rape, the rapist may petition for parental rights, depending on which state they're in. Yes, you read that right. The fact that the child is a result of rape is not grounds for denying paternity rights such as visitation, or even custody, if he can prove he is the biological father. This is true in many U.S. states.

And one of those states is Washington.

Surely, the mother can block the rapist from obtaining these parental rights, you’d think. Technically? Maybe. But it’s extremely difficult, and can only be done through an invasive and often expensive legal battle. And stringent conditions must be met, including the rapist being *convicted* of rape (remember how rare that is?). 

It’s clear to see how damaging this would be to both the child and the mother, having to deal with draining legal work, repeatedly discussing the rape, and seeing the rapist in court. And of course, 98% of cases wouldn’t even meet the requirement of having the perpetrator convicted of rape.

Additionally, with current laws, rapists can use the potential of custody or visitation as a legal bartering chip, pushing the mother to give away other rights in order to protect her child:

“When no law prohibits a rapist from exercising these [parental] rights, a woman may feel forced to bargain away her legal rights to a criminal trial in exchange for the rapist dropping the bid to have access to her child.” Not to mention that rapists may use the courtroom as a way to continue to harass their victims, emotionally and psychologically.

Some might argue that the woman doesn’t have to tell the rapist that she’s having his child. But unfortunately, most women are raped by someone they know. They may have been dating the rapist; they may share mutual friends or family. Also, “some of these men discover they are fathers only when the state targets them for child support, as single mothers must identify them to qualify for government assistance. This prompts some to file a lawsuit of their own.”

It’s obvious that this setup is far from ideal for rape victims. But what should we do about it?

Legal Voice has a solution.

In the 2014 session of the Washington State Legislature, Legal Voice advocated for two bills (​SB 6364 / HB 2559) that would have made it much more difficult for rapists to petition for parental rights. These bills mirrored similar laws passed in several other states—rather than requiring a conviction of rape for this legal barrier to take effect, the law would have required “clear and convincing evidence” that a rape had occurred. This is the same standard family courts use to decide whether a child has been abused or neglected. Since most rapes are not reported to the criminal justice system and those that are rarely result in conviction, this piece is key.

Not only would this bill prevent rapists from gaining parental rights over the child, but it also would prevent dragging rape survivors through traumatic and expensive court cases. While the bills did not pass the legislature in 2014, Legal Voice will revisit this issue for its 2017 legislative priorities.

When a woman has been raped, is unintentionally pregnant, and makes the extremely challenging decision to keep the unexpected child, the last thing she needs to worry about is going to court over the custody of that child.

Let’s make sure that she doesn’t have to.

Martha Burwell is a gender equity consultant, researcher, and writer based in Seattle. You can see her explorations into intersectional feminist topics on her blog EqualiSea: The pulse on gender equity in Seattle and beyond, or say hello on twitter @EqualiSea.

Photo courtesy of Donne Ray Jones | Licensed under CC by 2.0

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

This is NOT how to fight gender inequality.

By Janet Chung

Some people think that outlawing abortions for parents who don’t want a child of a particular gender would be a good way for Washington State to show it won’t stand for sex discrimination in any form. As one advocate put it, sex-selection abortion is equitable to women being “discriminated against in the womb.”

But that actually isn’t the case.

Don’t get me wrong: Legal Voice condemns the practice of “son preference”—preferring sons to daughters—in all its forms. But an abortion ban like the one currently being considered by the Washington State Senate is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is a solution to a problem that does not exist in this state—nor the rest of the United States—and perpetuates ugly stereotypes against Asian Americans.

The bill would charge physicians with criminal and civil liability and the possibility of losing their medical license. Threatening doctors and asking them to police their patients creates a disincentive to the honest, open communications between providers and patients that are essential to ensuring appropriate patient centered-care.

And the targets are women in a community that already faces barriers to health care, including language and cultural barriers, lack of insurance, and poverty. Washington has seen a 55% increase in its Asian American population since 2000. Asian American and Pacific Islander women need more access to safe, comprehensive reproductive health care—not less.

Proponents of sex-selection abortion bans say that they’re standing up for women and girls, but this is not the way to address gender inequality. As I told the Senate Law & Justice Committee yesterday, you can’t give women rights by taking away their rights. This bill will set a dangerous precedent and lead to even more restrictions on access to safe, legal reproductive care for all women.

Take action against this bill by urging the Senate Law & Justice Committee to vote "NO" on SB 6612!

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Wage Gap is a Myth!
Or is it?

By Janet Chung

We hear it all the time: “The wage gap is a myth!” Or, “We have all the laws we need to eliminate pay inequality.”

But even in jobs predominantly held by women—such as administrators, registered nurses, and teachers—men take home more pay every single week. So, despite what the critics say, the wage gap persists.

And many employers still punish workers for discussing their pay with co-workers, depriving them of the information that could help all workers make sure they are being paid fairly. Legal Voice, our allied organizations, and our legislative champions are not willing to accept that status quo, so we are advocating for an equal pay bill currently before the Washington Legislature.

We are excited that HB 1646 passed out of the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee last week, and it is now ready to be scheduled for a vote by the full House. But we need your help to ensure this important bill also receives a hearing in the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee.

Please urge Chair Michael Baumgartner and other members of the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee to schedule SB 6442 for a public hearing. Here's how:

• Call the legislative hotline at 800-562-6000 between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm Monday through Friday. Your message will be passed along to your Senator.

• Email Senator Baumgartner or the other members of the Committee. Use this link to email them all at once (sample message included). Having trouble? Copy and paste this list into the “To” field of your email, and use the sample message below:

Michael.Baumgartner@leg.wa.gov; John.Braun@leg.wa.gov; Bob.Hasegawa@leg.wa.gov; Steve.Conway@leg.wa.gov; Karen.Keiser@leg.wa.gov; Curtis.King@leg.wa.gov; Judy.Warnick@leg.wa.gov

Sample message: Please hear and pass SB 5630 before next week’s cutoff. Join me in standing up for Washington’s working women and families by updating our equal pay laws. We all deserve paycheck transparency and equal employment opportunities.

Together, we can make sure that someday, the wage gap really IS a myth. Thank you for your help and support!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Stalking Awareness Month

By Joshua Bam

After the fight, James Bateman was convicted of simple assault. His girlfriend at the time decided to dump the abuser and move on. But that’s not the end of the story. 

A few months after the breakup she reported that she started receiving text messages from Bateman. Some of them were pictures of her boyfriend’s vehicle with corresponding threats, according to the Yakima Herald; one was a picture of a pistol.  She said that Bateman told her that if she didn’t break up with her boyfriend, he would post a “compromising” video of her online. And she reported that he made threats to her physical safety over the course of 150 unwanted text messages.

In July 2015, she took her cellphone to a police station in Benton County, Washington. Investigators scanned the texts, which lead to a felony charge against Bateman for cyberstalking with a domestic violence allegation. Bateman’s trial was set for November 16, 2015. The case is still ongoing, Bateman is currently out on $10,000 bail.

Yes, you read that right. A cyberstalker who is charged with threatening violence against two victims over the course of 150 texts is out on bail while his criminal trial is pending.

Unfortunately, this scenario is far too indicative of the time we live in. 

January is Stalking Awareness Month, the perfect time to begin changing the status quo. In 2016, approximately 7.5 million people will be stalked in the U.S. The majority of victims will be stalked by someone they know, and about 11% will have already been stalked for five years or more. 

Most organizations and laws classify stalking as an intentional incident of threatening, harassing, following, surveillance, or coercive behavior that occurs more than once and causes you to fear for your safety, the safety of someone you know, or your property. Stalking is a serious crime. In today's world, cyberstalking—or electronic communication with the intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass another person—is just as serious. 

In December, Legal Voice shared the story of Karen’s experience with cyberstalking and nonconsensual pornography. She was faced with an abuser who sent threatening text messages, and then posted her intimate images and personal information online. When she sought help, no one treated her abuser’s actions as a crime.

But stalking is a crime under the laws of all 50 states. Some states treat the crime as a felony; others don't. In fact, every state's stalking laws are a bit different. Some states require victims to experience actual fear of death or bodily harm; others say reasonable fear is enough. And, just like it happened in Benton County, many perpetrators accused of stalking can post bail and roam free while their criminal trial is pending.

Here’s a not-so-fun fact: Three out of four women killed by their partners were being stalked by those partners before the murder. Three out of four. And even if the stalking doesn’t lead to physical violence, the psychological impacts are often severe.

We must make sure stalking victims get the protection they need. Washington State offers a protection order created specifically for victims of stalking who experience more than “unlawful harassment” but do not qualify for a Domestic Violence Protection Order. Stalking victims can further protect themselves by enrolling in the Address Confidentiality Program, filing a civil or criminal lawsuit, or requesting a notification of the stalker’s release from jail or prison. More information on these options is available in the Legal Voice memo, Are You Being Stalked? Tips for Protection.

During Stalking Awareness Month (and all year round), education is key. With a complete understanding of the realities of stalking—how common it is, what it actually looks like, and what can happen if left unaddressed—we can better empower stalking victims to protect themselves and help to end the stalking before a physical attack occurs.

Josh is a managing partner at Benchmark Legal where he practices business, commercial, and tax law. He volunteers his time as a site manager with the UWKC Free Tax Preparation Campaign and serves on Legal Voice's Self Help Committee. Josh is also currently the president of Seattle Select Attorneys Association.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

for Transgender Washingtonians!

By David Ward

In 2006, Legal Voice and our allies won passage of the Anderson-Murray anti-discrimination law, which protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in Washington. Now the protections that this law provides to transgender people are under attack—and we need your help to fight back.

Bills have been introduced in Olympia that would eliminate protections that allow transgender people to use restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity. These protections have existed for ten years and are essential for transgender people to live and work safely in Washington.

These bills are part of a new wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation that is being pushed across the country. We can't allow them to pass in Washington.

That's why we've joined with our allies to form the Washington Safety & Access for Everyone (SAFE) Alliance to protect our anti-discrimination law from these attacks.

Please call or email your state legislators and ask them to preserve our state's anti-discrimination law by opposing HB 2589 and SB 6443.

Your voice is needed. Please take action today.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.