civil rights

kankajpg-f5ceeb5091c57696

International Megan’s Law: A Pretty Terrible Idea

In 1994, 7 year old Megan Kanka was brutally raped and murdered by her 43 year old neighbor, Jesse Timmendequas. The news sent shockwaves across their community and the nation as a whole, not just because the crime was stomach churning, but because Timmendequas was a registered sex offender. The event spawned a series of laws across the nation — often referred to as Megan’s Law — requiring law enforcement to inform the public when a sex offender relocates to their community. On the federal level, Megan’s Law was woven into legislation requiring sex offenders to register with the state and inform the state of any moves for a determined or even infinite amount of time. The whole initiative was an effort to allow the public to protect themselves from known sex offenders.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, sex offenders frequently found themselves hard up for work or even housing as people recoiled at their designation, which ironically exacerbated the likeliness of recidivism. That’s quite a feat, given that recidivism among convicted sex offenders is statistically quite low. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of groups who argue that this practice violates the eighth amendment by punishing an individual in perpetuity for one crime. Instead of public safety, there was a rise in public vigilantes. Stephen Marshall, for instance, sought out two men on the registry and murdered them in cold blood. Michael Dodele was murdered by a local father “in protection of his son” after he discovered Dodele’s conviction, though Dodele’s crime had nothing to do with children.

And there’s another problem here: what we classify as sex crimes. There are some crimes that fit neatly in this category: rape, sexual assault, molestation. But some crimes that classify might be as simple, innocuous and stupid as urinating in public or streaking at a football game. In some cases, even the labels we recognize as legitimately heinous don’t make a ton of sense in context. A 30 year old man who forces himself on a 16 year old girl in an alley, for instance, is not the same as an 18 year old senior in high school having consensual sex with his 16 year old sophomore girlfriend, but on the registry, there often won’t be a distinction.

The sex offender registry is not an inherently terrible idea. Even the Association for Treatment of Sexual Offenders concedes that sexual offenders should be carefully reintegrated into society upon release with ample legal oversight. But until laws and the registration process are reformed, the current process is doing no one any favors.

Which brings us to today, as Congress sends President Obama what is known as an “International Megan’s Law.” This law would require that the State Department conspicuously mark the passports of anyone involved in a sex crime that involved a minor to inform other nations of their risk upon entry.

There are a lot of problems with this. We’ve already talked about how the registry conflates crimes by ignoring crimes; this is worse. Teens sexting each other would end up on this list if convicted. But beyond the fact that its application could end up being unjustly applied, there’s absolutely no evidence this would thwart the human trafficking it claims to target. And if people are being discriminated against with their names listed online, imagine what happens to those who use a passport as a form of identification. To add insult to injury, their supposed purpose is redundant. As Reason explains:

[W]hen it comes to those who have committed the most heinous crimes or are the most likely to reoffend, we already have a mechanisms in place to either prevent them from getting passports or notify foreign governments when they’re traveling abroad. The Secretary of State can deny passports to people convicted of certain sex crimes, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) “Operation Angel Watch” already notifies foreign officials when Americans convicted of certain sex crimes are traveling there.

And the reason ICE knows the travel habits of these sex offenders? Because all people on state sex offender registries—regardless of why they’re there or how long ago their crimes were committed—are required under federal law to “inform his or her residence jurisdiction of any intended travel outside of the United States at least 21 days prior to that travel.”

In other words, the only thing this law would do is exacerbate the harms that already exist in the flawed framework of sex offender registry related laws. Nice, right?

But as the legislation crosses President Obama’s desk, it seems unlikely that it would be vetoed, largely because of optics. How would it look for him to reject legislation that’s supposed to protect children from being raped?

That doesn’t mean we should accept its passage. Sexual violence survivors deserve our support, and if anything, the flaws in the current legal regime trivialize their experience. That a person having sex with someone they’re in high school with is put on the level with a brutal rape is unconscionable. That that same kid be treated with the same disdain reserved for violent rapists for potentially the rest of their natural lives is revolting. We can do better, and should.

Until then, let’s hope Obama’s constitutional law background triumphs over PR inclinations.

 

Senator Salmon

The Problem With Anti-Marriage Equality Politicians

The past couple of weeks have seen a lot of conversation about marriage equality. Between SCOTUS hearing arguments on DOMA and Prop 8, and Republican Senator Rob Portman coming out in favor of marriage equality in support of his son, there’s a lot of hope coursing through the veins of advocates across the country. And then there are stories like this one, that make your heart ache for humanity:

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) says that having a gay son has not swayed his views on the marriage issue and that he still opposes marriage equality, azfamily.com reported last week.

Salmon, a staunch social conservative, expressed love and respect for his son during an interview with 3TV in Arizona but said that he is “not there as far as believing in my heart” that marriage should be available to same-sex couples.

So here’s the deal. We can talk about the importance of changing hearts and minds one at at time and one day at a time. We can talk about Rep. Salmon being one of those hearts we need to change. But I’m angry, and it’s not because I disagree with him on this issue. I’m angry because of the decision making framework he’s using to evaluate legal matters.

Let’s revisit his statement, shall we? When giving a reason for why he won’t support marriage equality:

…not there as far as believing in my heart…

That’s sweet, and sentimental, and human. EXCEPT IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH UPHOLDING THE CONSTITUTION, WHICH IS WHAT YOUR DAMN JOB IS. As a reminder, this is the oath taken when being sworn into office:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

See anything in there about heart? Or personal religious affiliation? No? I didn’t think so. Following your heart is great in terms of personal decisions, but when you’re on the job in politics, your decision making calculus is different. Period. You swore an oath to that end.

In other words, I’m fine with you holding your own personal beliefs. I mean, really, I’m not fine with it if your personal beliefs are that certain human beings are inherently less valuable than others, but I recognize that it is your right to hold such oppressive beliefs dear. What I am not fine with is you opposing marriage equality based on your personal beliefs, because the same laws that allow you the right to hold those beliefs protect the rest of us from you forcing them upon us.

So if you cannot provide a sound legal argument for why marriage equality should not exist, I don’t want to hear it. And if you’re a legislator who cannot provide a sound legal argument for opposing marriage equality, then you’re doing it wrong, and you don’t deserve the office you hold.

Dear “Feminism Destroys Things” People

Dear Mr. Nold,

I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but my name is Lauren. I’m a feminist, and I wanted to introduce myself. I say this because I recently read your article entitled, “Feminism hurts modern-day relationships,” and I’m not sure you’ve ever met a feminist before. At least, that’s what I’m hoping, because it’s the only conclusion that leaves you with much dignity after that piece.

So hi. I’m a feminist. Not the kind you’re envisioning, most likely. I don’t have hairy legs because I like how they feel shaved. I love my bras, and am more likely to burn dinner than I am my lingerie. I own an embarrassingly large collection of cosmetics and skyscraper heels. I almost always wear a skirt or dress in professional settings, because I feel confident and like the way they make me look. I like kids (at least, my daughter better hope so). If I ever get married, I’ll probably take my husband’s last name. I’m still a feminist.

Doesn’t quite line up with the women crusading against evil men in your piece, does it? To be fair, there’s not much in your piece that adds up at all.

You’re right that economic modernization has been good to women. We’ll ignore that your justification for said claim was that industrialization created an economy less reliant on manual labor – despite the fact that many women are just as capable as men in such work – and instead focus on some of the good news. Women do make up a larger portion of the workforce than they did before. That’s cool. Except for the fact that they:

  • Still earn $.77 for every dollar a man makes doing the same job with comparable performance and qualifications- a mere 18 cents higher than it was in 1970. On average, that’s a deficit of around $10k a year in pay. That means that if I start working at the age of 22, and retire at 65 (oh, to be so lucky), that’s just under $500k that I don’t get as a woman. 
  • Still only make up 15% of corporate boards, and only 14% of executive roles, for Fortune 500 companies. You’re right that there are more executives than before, but you’re wrong about the pace of the trend- it’s glacial. I’ll admit that some gap here would be reasonable, given the social constructs of family and the decisions some female professionals make about their priorities, but it doesn’t justify a 35% gap. Not by a long shot.

Maybe an employer can’t tell me I won’t get a job because I’m not attractive to him, or that I won’t get a promotion because he’s worried I’ll have kids, but he can still think it. Without solid proof of discrimination, he can act on those thoughts without consequence. I may have a better shot in the workplace today than I did in the 1950’s, but that doesn’t make it a fair shot. I, personally, am lucky to work for a firm where I don’t have to worry about anything of the sort, but I’m lucky. Lucky. Luck should have nothing to do with equal treatment.

Perhaps the knowledge of these facts is why we’re so competitive, as you mention when you discuss collegiate differences between the sexes. To be fair, I wound up very confused when I read this part of your article. You say that men are not earning as many degrees, and their grades aren’t as good, because, “they are no longer being held to a higher standard.” You say this is a result of feminist-driven competition, but (graciously) we shouldn’t blame women for this.

Lolwut?

For starters, you must hang out with some weird guys. I don’t think I have ever met a man who was like, “Man, I’m going to piss away $120k in college loans before interest and get C’s because FEMINISM.

But assuming this bizarro world where your logic holds, you’re right. You should not blame feminism for alleged male slacking, because slacking would be the man’s choice, no? I have no idea why this was in your article to begin with, because it certainly doesn’t support your point. Yep, women folk are gettin’ themselves some edumacation. Which means that while women are more educated and better trained than ever, they are still paid less and promoted less frequently than men. 

Nice try, though.

Then we come to your section on relationships, and this was the part where my brain started to implode a little bit. You articulate an argument I’ve heard more frequently lately than I care to think about, largely because it sounds a great deal like bitter whining, and also because it’s complete and total intellectual slop. Your words:

The fact is women have become so independent and focused on their work many have forgotten how to have a relationship based on mutual understanding and cooperation.

Hokay, time out. Aside from the fact that your sentence composition makes me weep for the future of journalism, a few things need to be said:

  1. Wait, why do I need to be in a relationship to begin withNews to me. I mean, don’t get me wrong – relationships with the right people can be great – but I’m fairly certain I don’t stop being a person when I’m single. Actually, I don’t know about you, but I’d always been told that it was important to be your own person, and not define yourself based on who you date. Perhaps that’s why women are so focused on their careers and individual interests – they’ve realized that they are, in fact, people. GASP! Unintended consequences… they’re a bitch. 
  2. If you’re right, and feminists are so competitive they can’t do relationships, you should be happy feminism exists! After all, now you have an easy way of identifying people who will challenge you as an individual, and can avoid dating them. #WINNING
  3. You know, men- for centuries- worked as the breadwinners for their family. They worked outside the home, and they still had relationships. The question is, does ambition and perseverance and hard work mean you can’t grasp the importance of mutual understanding and cooperation? (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.)
  4. Also, since, as you point out, women are such bad ass business people now, you better believe they understand the importance of mutual understanding and cooperation. I don’t know many successful people in business who don’t.
  5. If men are slacking the way you say they are, it’s a damn good thing we’re focused and independent. After all, money doesn’t grow on trees. Or your parents’ basement walls.
  6. I love that your vision of mutual understanding and cooperation is you telling women not to be a feminist and to participate in a relationship according to your worldview. It’s so ironic, it’s like post-hipster. Gnarly, dude.

Alright, bitchfest done. You probably didn’t deserve all of that. But you still needed to hear it.

In all seriousness, this comment is why I was worried you’d never met a feminist. Feminists are actually on your side here. I mean, I’m sure there are a handful who want nothing more than a purse holder in a man, and most of us would caveat the bulk of your writing with more gender neutral terminology (to be more inclusive of the LGBT community- intersectionality for the win), but generally and broadly speaking, feminism has evolved to the point that it’s about treating people equally, regardless of gender. That means they want the ability to participate in a partnership that’s based on mutual understanding and cooperation as equals.  They’re down with the idea that “men and women in a relationship need to value one another equally and agree to their responsibilities to the relationship, together in mutual partnership.”

I’m not sure who you’ve been talking to or reading (outside of a woman whose career is telling other women not to have one). Feminism is very much in line with the ideas you praise.

If you believe:

  • that an equally qualified, educated and performing woman should be paid the same amount as a man of similar qualifications, education and performance in the same job;
  • that assuming a woman will have a family and become an unreliable employee is probably a bad idea;
  • that people should be able to choose whether they want to get married or have kids;
  • that people should not be expected to perform certain tasks around the home because of their gender;
  • that gender has nothing to do with your intelligence;
  • that people should not be made to feel unsafe because of their gender; or
  • that gender should not dictate your treatment of others…

YOU ARE PROBABLY A FEMINIST.

Didn’t see that one coming, did you? It’s like that twist ending in The Sixth Sense… terrifying.

You started your article by telling us that, “Feminism has achieved what it was set out to do.” To be fair, we’ve made progress. There’s no doubt about that. But are we done? No way. Feminism is still necessary because of the reality of economic inequality. Feminism is still necessary because we think access to degrees means everything else has been addressed. Feminism is still necessary because it is viewed as a “threat” to our relationships.

In other words, feminism is still necessary because I’m writing you this letter. Until we stop equating feminism with antiquated stereotypes, stop making statistical apologies for systemic discrimination, and stop demonizing women who have the courage to be themselves (even when it doesn’t fit neatly into someone else’s definition of being a woman), it will always be necessary.

You might be feeling a little scalded or indignant right now. I won’t begrudge you that. After all, this post was the cumulative response to a good six months of showing restraint in the face of other articles just like yours. Perhaps the proper salutation would have been addressed to any of the people who try to argue that feminism is somehow the root of all evil. But you’re young. You can still learn and change and grow. Maybe getting burned will save the women in your life down the line from being subjected to the “feminism hurtz” campaign.

I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that you just didn’t realize how wrong you were. I’m going to pretend I didn’t notice the thinly veiled nostalgia for the way it “used to be” found in your descriptions of what you “don’t” mean- PC caveats draped in the bite of a Southern “bless your heart.” I’m going to ignore the #obamabowl tweets, and the fact that you’ve defended some shady stuff in the past in your writing. I’ll just assume you had no idea what a feminist was.

But now you know. So stop writing stupid things.

Thanks,

Lauren