NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter Monday to teams and staff announcing the appointment of four women to shape the league’s policies on intimate partner violence.
Following the release of a video showing Ray Rice’s attack on his now wife, and the revelation that law enforcement had sent the video to NFL during their investigation earlier this year, advocacy organizations as well as some politicians have called for Goodell’s resignation.
The criticism of Goodell and the league has continued unabated; this past weekend women’s rights group Ultra Violet and the National Organization for Women flew banners over NFL stadiums reading “#GoodellMustGo.”
Despite calls for his resignation, Goodell has said he’s not going anywhere, and on Monday announced the creation of several new positions to improve the league’s handling of domestic violence.
Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s current vice president of community affairs and philanthropy, will become the vice president of social responsibility and will be responsible for implementing educational programming around sexual assault and domestic violence.
Goodell said that he has hired three women to advise the league on how to create policies that effectively address sexual assault and domestic violence.
From their qualifications outlined in the letter, the three women Goodell hired appear to have significant experience working with this issue: Lisa Friel was the head of the Sex Crimes Unit in the New York County District Attorney’s Office; Jane Randel is the co-founder of a national organization dedicated to “raise the profile and increase conversation” about domestic violence and sexual assault; and Rita Smith was the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Image: Bloomberg News via YouTube
The post Women Given the Lead in Shaping NFL’s Domestic Violence Policy Changes appeared first on RH Reality Check.
When the Mission, Texas, Planned Parenthood clinic reopened last September in the Rio Grande Valley after a two-year shutter due to family planning budget cuts made by anti-choice Texas lawmakers, their patients returned—but with far more health problems and abnormal test results than doctors and nurses had expected.
“We saw as many cases of diseases and health problems than we normally would have found in a year at that clinic,” said Kathryn Hearn, the provider’s community services director. “It really did open our eyes when we say that for many patients, we are their only health-care provider.”
That’s why this month, the entity formerly known as Planned Parenthood of Hidalgo County is making a major branding switch: from now on, the provider will be known as Access Esperanza Clinics.
It’s a response to a Texas law that bans any “affiliate” of Planned Parenthood from receiving public funding to provide reproductive health care, even if those so-called “affiliates” do not provide abortion care.
Anti-choice Texas legislators passed the law in 2006, but began enforcing it three years ago, effectively cutting off tens of thousands of low-income Texans’ access to affordable Pap smears and contraception.
Planned Parenthood had provided the majority of services in what was previously called the Medicaid Women’s Health Program. When state lawmakers banned Planned Parenthood from the program, and from receiving any public funding whatsoever, the federal government deemed it a violation of the Social Security Act, which mandates that clients receiving publicly supported health care be able to see the doctor of their choosing.
As a result, Texas built a new state-funded Texas Women’s Health Program that has struggled not only to meet the existing need, but which has seen a steep decline in enrollment and services provided with the loss of Planned Parenthood—at a higher cost to taxpayers.
Hearn told RH Reality Check that the name change will allow the group to once again apply for state family planning and primary care dollars and attempt to return to serving their 13,000 Hidalgo County clients who were denied health care after the state slashed family planning funds by two-thirds during the 2011 legislative session.
That budget move caused dozens of family planning clinics—including, but not exclusively, Planned Parenthood facilities—to shut their doors and drastically reduce service hours and staff.
Hearn emphasized that “nothing” about the clinics’ care model or structure will change. The only difference will be the name—and, if Access Esperanza is able to re-secure public funds, the number of clients they’re able to serve.
“Being able to get state funds is going to mean that we will be able to expand services,” Hearn said. “We will be able to do more diabetes, cholesterol screenings, primary care.”
Hearn said that the name change was a difficult decision, but that it was necessary to be able to continue serving a community in need. The Rio Grande Valley is one of the poorest areas not only in Texas, but in the nation, and it was particularly hard-hit by lawmakers’ family planning cuts.
Access Esperanza had served Hidalgo County for 50 years as Planned Parenthood—and had never provided abortion services, despite anti-choice lawmakers’ claims that any funding to any Planned Parenthood entity was tacit endorsement of legal abortion care—before the name change.
“Except for the name ‘Planned Parenthood,’ we already met the requirements [to receive public funding],” Hearn said. “We’re really not any different today than we were a year ago.”
Hearn said that Access Esperanza aims to increase its patient capacity by 8,000 clients over the next year if they’re able to receive public funds. She said she wasn’t sure how much public funding they might be eligible for, however.
“We’ve not looked at it in terms of money,” Hearn said. “We’re looking at it in terms of people served.”
Image: Insurance via Shutterstock
The post Texas Planned Parenthood Clinics Rebrand in Hopes of Public Funds appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Russell Pearce, the vice president of Arizona’s Republican Party, resigned late Sunday night after advocating for the sterilization of poor women.
On his talk radio program, Pearce, a former state senator, made the following comments:
You put me in charge of Medicaid, the first thing I’d do is get Norplant, birth-control implants, or tubal ligations. … Then we’ll test recipients for drugs and alcohol, and if you want to (reproduce) or use drugs or alcohol, then get a job.
On Saturday, the executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party called out Republicans for their “silence” on the issue. Shortly after, state Republicans took to Twitter to distance themselves from Pearce. Doug Doucey, a Republican candidate for the Arizona governor, tweeted his disapproval:
I couldn't disagree more with Russell Pearce's deplorable comments. They have no place in our discourse.
— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) September 15, 2014
As did Martha McSally, a Republican candidate for Congress:
Russell Pearce’s ignorant, hateful comments are insulting to women everywhere. He needs to resign or be removed from office immediately.
— Martha McSally (@MarthaMcSally) September 15, 2014
GOP strategist Sean Noble called for Russell’s resignation via Twitter, saying “there’s nothing conservative about fascism”:
— Sean Noble (@seannobledc) September 13, 2014
Pearce resigned from his position in the Republican Party on Sunday. In his statement, he walked back his comments, saying that he “shared comments written by someone else and failed to attribute them to the author. This was a mistake.”
Image: Wikimedia Commons
The post Arizona GOP Leader Resigns After Calling for Forced Sterilization of Poor Women appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The official anti-choice line when objecting to the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act is “religious freedom.” It’s always been a transparent lie, particularly since the actual objection, trotted out in right-wing media sources like Rush Limbaugh’s show, has always been about how women shouldn’t be having sex in the first place. But recent events confirm, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the objections have nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with the belief that women should not be allowed to make their own decisions when it comes to sexual and reproductive health.
The first story is kind of a stunner. State Rep. Paul Wieland (R-MO), a vehemently anti-choice legislator from Missouri, is suing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to prevent his daughters, two of whom are legal adults, from having access to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception benefit. Under the health-care reform law, young adults can be covered until age 26 on their parent’s health-care plans (though there’s no requirement that they have to be). Rep. Wieland’s argument is that because of this, he has a right to try to control the private medical decisions of his adult daughters.
There’s been no real attempt on the right to make this story about anything but the argument that parents have a right to interfere with the private sexual and reproductive health decisions of daughters, even grown daughters. Timothy Belz of the Thomas More Society, for instance, argued that contraception coverage is “as though the federal government had passed an edict that said that parents must provide a stocked unlocked liquor cabinet in their house whenever they’re away for their minor and adult daughters to use.”
The casual equation of a medication that prevents a serious medical condition—pregnancy—with liquor gives away the game here. What’s going on here is nothing but a bunch of moralizing combined with the belief that women are never really full-grown adults but are simply wards of their parents until their custody can be transferred to husbands.
But beyond that, the argument here is also false, as are all other claims that contraception coverage amounts to “buying” contraception for someone else. The parents aren’t buying the contraception. They are paying for an insurance plan, and the insurance company pays for the contraception—if you want it. A better analogy would be buying your daughter a house which she, since it’s a gift, now owns, and then calling the police on her if she has a gentleman caller over, arguing that because you gave her something, the government should enforce your desires about how she uses it.
Indeed, this is why Wieland lost his case in district court: because the judges were uneasy with the idea of the government trying to use its power to enforce parental authority over grown adults. Belz argued, however, “Well, we all have high hopes for our kids, that is true. We all expect and want them to obey us, they don’t always.” This suggests that parental desire to have adult daughters who are virgins trumps adult daughters’ own right to control their bodies.
Of course if Wieland is so upset over this, he could simply refuse to cover his daughters on his insurance. But that was also true of Hobby Lobby—the closely held corporation could have refused to offer insurance altogether and not received a tax break instead. The refusal to even acknowledge that alternative demonstrates that this is not about its religious “conscience,” but about trying to manipulate the law and the political controversies over Obamacare to achieve the real goal, which is taking power away from women and giving it to employers, parents, husbands, and schools: Anyone but the women themselves.
You don’t need a keen legal mind to realize that, prior to the decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, it was generally understood that once you transferred possession of something—such as a house, a car, a pair of pants, or a health insurance plan—over to someone else, it belonged to that person and not you, and the current owner got to decide what to do with it, not the former owner. For instance, you may buy your daughter a car and ask her not to use the seatbelt. You may even refuse to give her a car if you are afraid she’ll buckle up. But what you can’t do is demand that the government make an exception to its mandatory seatbelt rules so you can remove her seatbelt because you’re afraid she’ll be tempted to use it.
But now the Supreme Court has signaled that they are eager to make an exception to this long-standing legal idea when it comes to women’s bodies, allowing others to make really bold claims about their right to stop you from getting care from your own plan or even from one offered by the government.
The fact that conservatives feel the court is going to offer them the right to stand between women and contraception is evidenced by the latest machinations in the fight to make sure employers don’t offer birth control coverage. The administration is offering a compromise through which those employers don’t have to offer the birth control coverage in their own plans, but they have to allow women to go elsewhere for the coverage, in this case to the insurance companies themselves. It’s the equivalent of saying, “OK, you don’t have to provide an office parking lot, but you can’t prevent them from parking in this public lot we’ve built next door.”
But the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of the groups suing to prevent employees from accessing contraception, has rejected this plan. It’s become painfully clear at this point that the Little Sisters will accept no other answer besides giving them permission to cut off any and all contraception coverage that women might get from anyone. They won’t pay for it, but they won’t allow anyone else to pay for it. It’s the equivalent of arguing that the government is obliged to shut down the public lot because you are trying to force all your employees to walk to work and the government services are interfering with that.
These arguments are all ridiculous, but so were the arguments in Hobby Lobby. The reason conservatives are pushing forward is they believe they have a Supreme Court that will accept any pretzel logic so long as it means that fewer women get contraception. Unfortunately, the Roberts Court hasn’t given them any reason to doubt that’s exactly what’s going on.
The post The Aftermath of ‘Hobby Lobby’: Multiple Attacks on Contraception Access appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Uranus Watkins was only 14 years old when she says two employees of Ohio’s state-run Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility sexually abused, assaulted, and raped her over the course of a year while she was in custody.
According to a 2012 civil lawsuit she filed against Ohio’s Department of Youth Services (DYS), Watkins has lost employment, incurred health expenses, and suffered mentally, emotionally, and physically as a result of the violations, which reportedly took place from 2000 to 2001. Moreover, she argues, DYS continuously failed to properly investigate sexual abuse reports or implement policies preventing them within its facilities—despite, as she phrased it in her lawsuit, the department’s “knowledge of a history and patterns of problems within the organization.”
Less than two months after Watkins filed her case, though, the Ohio Court of Claims, which governs all civil actions against the state, granted DYS’s preliminary motion to dismiss it, ruling that Watkins’ right to action had expired under Ohio’s sovereign immunity statute. Under that statute, potential plaintiffs only have two years past the age of majority to level any civil claim against the state. Given that Watkins turned 18 in 2004, the court determined that she would have had until 2006 to lodge the complaint.
But Watkins and her attorney, Jill Flagg, assert that the “essential character” of the case is childhood sexual abuse, meaning that Ohio’s much longer window to pursue those civil claims—12 years past majority age—should apply. Under that law, Watkins would actually have until 2016 to file her suit.
“Most childhood sexual abuse victims will not get civil justice with a two-year statute of limitations,” Flagg pointed out to RH Reality Check in an email. The Court of Claims decision, she continued, essentially “says that the people of Ohio don’t care whether these victims [of violence in state-run facilities] get access to the court when they’ve been raped or molested.”
Even so, an appellate court affirmed the Court of Claims ruling in May 2013.
Watkins appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court last September, claiming the disparate application of the two statutes violates Watkins’ constitutional rights. The court then heard oral arguments in April of this year; the justices have not indicated when they will hand down a decision.
According to Mason, Ohio-based attorney Konrad Kircher, this is the first time the state’s highest court is interpreting the issue of sovereign immunity in child sexual abuse cases. But, he noted, the state legislature only implemented the 12-year statute of limitations eight years ago, making the law “still fresh in jurisprudence.”
Still, Kircher, who pursued dozens of survivors’ rights cases during Ohio’s clergy scandal in the early aughts, told RH Reality Check, “Does it surprise me [the supreme court] took the case? No. I mean, there is this apparent contradiction between the two years and the 12 years.”
And the implications of the case, Flagg says, are immense.
“If the court rules in our favor, all childhood sex abuse victims will get 12 years past their 18th birthdays to bring civil claims. It means equality in the legal system for all victims,” Flagg wrote to RH Reality Check. “This opinion will cause the state of Ohio to apply safeguards to ensure that children do not get sexually abused.”
But if the court sides with the state? “Many victims of abuse would be barred from bringing suit against the state and state facilities,” Flagg predicted.
Equal Protection for All Youth
During oral arguments to the state supreme court, Flagg contended that the trial court’s dismissal of Watkins’ case infringes on her equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment. By applying the two-year statute instead of the 12-year one, the state is treating youth abuse survivors differently based on whether the institution is owned and operated publicly or privately, Flagg wrote in her brief.
In particular, Flagg argued, the unequal treatment resulting from the ten-year difference between the two statutes violates Watkins’ right to privacy, as enshrined in Roe v. Wade—or more specifically, sexual privacy as determined in Griswold v. Connecticut. Since Watkins was not legally granted the same amount of time to process her abuse as that given to a survivor of violence in a non-state-run facility, Flagg continued, her right to privacy surrounding that matter was violated.
As noted in Flagg’s brief, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Vuitch that “health,” in the context of privacy, includes mental health. It also determined in Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v. Casey that undue burdens cannot be placed on a person’s right to privacy—in Watkins’ case, Flagg said, that burden is the constraint of time.
“The actual privacy right is the right to process an act that is very private, like a sexual abuse act,” she told the court, noting that the equal protection claim is “unique” in this case. “It implicates the right to privacy through the psychological processing of the abuse.”
The state’s attorney, Peter K. Glenn-Applegate, disputed the equal protection charge, claiming under heavy questioning by the court that the laws differ on a rational basis. Therefore, he reasoned, the two-year statute is constitutionally sound because, among other points, sovereign immunity helps “preserve taxpayer funds”—an argument Justice Paul E. Pfeifer called “offensive” in the context of children’s safety.
This explanation, Flagg wrote to RH Reality Check later, “sends the message that the state of Ohio cares about money … over kids.”
For that matter, Flagg countered during the hearing, such a mercenary tack “is not even a good answer to the rational basis test. … I think [the state] would save some money in the short term, but in the long term, they wouldn’t address the main problem here, and that is they aren’t taking the precautionary measures to protect our children in facilities.” By contrast, expanding the law to allow survivors of state violence to file suit would compel state agencies to fix problems of safety and avoid future litigation. As of now, she said, “there’s no incentive for them to do that.”
Glenn-Applegate also argued that the language of the childhood sexual abuse statute itself allows for the application of the two-year limit in this case. Referred to as the “unless” clause, the 12-year law states that all civil actions fall under the revised code if a previous claim has not been filed or if another statute cannot be enforced.
That last element is one the state’s lawyer has clung to tightly in Watkins’ case: He claimed that when the Ohio General Assembly passed the 2006 law, representatives contemplated the role of the sovereign immunity statute in childhood sexual abuse claims, though that possibility was never explicitly mentioned during the legislative process. And since survivors can sue their direct abusers—rather than their abusers’ public employers—in the Court of Common Pleas under the 12-year statute, Glenn-Applegate said, youth abused in state facilities would still have some opportunity for justice.
The general assembly could “have been hardly clearer about which claim applies in which court,” he told the supreme court.
But, refuted Flagg, the legislature’s use of “all civil actions” and “all civil plaintiffs” in the law is “expressly implicit” proof that it didn’t intend state actors to be part of that exception. While youth hurt by state actors could file in the pleas court, she said, that option does little to hold both private and public entities equally accountable for their respective complicity in the matter—and it’s often a complicated task for plaintiffs already overwhelmed by judicial barriers.
The two-year limit provides for little redress and recourse, said Flagg. Nor does it allow for “general acknowledgment that people looked the other way or enabled the sex abuse for the plaintiff,” she said.
As Tara Murtha has previously reported for RH Reality Check, survivors of childhood sexual abuse often go years, even decades, without revealing what took place. It could be their abuser was a family member or authority figure, and they fear reporting. It could be they repressed what happened until an event—or even a slight moment—triggered the memories years later. Or it could be they haven’t connected the abuse with its destructive long-term manifestations, such as addiction, depression, anxiety disorders, or other illnesses.
Knowing that, Flagg told the court, “Two years was not even a thought. Two years would be cruel.”
According to Jeff Dion, deputy executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, civil statutes of limitations in Ohio are already “really quite strict and draconian, and not very victim-friendly compared to what we see in other states.” In at least 26 states, for example, the time limits to pursue civil child sexual abuse cases don’t even begin until the survivor makes a causal connection between the abuse and its disruptive effect on his or her life. And in June, Massachusetts passed the longest fixed-year statute of limitations in the country—up to age 53.
In Ohio, meanwhile, “when you add on top of [existing limits] the even shorter time frame, it becomes almost impossible for a victim of child sexual abuse in a state facility to be able to get civil justice unless they can recognize it and report it immediately,” Dion told RH Reality Check. “That’s really rare for victims because child sex abuse is often not an instance where someone grabs a child and forces them to perform a sex act.”
With many incidents of childhood sexual abuse, he continued, survivors undergo years of grooming and manipulation by the perpetrator. Since this is often a person in a position of authority whom they know and trust, it can be “difficult for victims to recognize that what happened to them constituted abuse.”
“There’s all sorts of factors in place that keep victims quiet and try and prevent the victim from coming forward. … The law doesn’t reflect the reality of how long it takes victims to report,” Dion concluded. “Ohio is really far behind what other states are doing in responding to that.”
Katie Hanna, executive director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence (OAESV) concurs. “When we see many survivors come into rape crisis centers, it’s 20, 30 years after a sexual assault. We also have victims coming in right after the fact. It’s important for the public to remember that the trauma and impact of rape does not go away,” Hanna told RH Reality Check. “By having arbitrary time limits on the statute of limitations, it limits the ability for people to take justice … in some cases, victims can feel like their voice isn’t being heard.”
Hanna, like Flagg, says Watkins’ case will have enormous implications for abuse survivors in the long run.
“What’s huge about the [Ohio Supreme Court] decision that comes out is that it’ll really set that standard to say there could be an opportunity for other victims [of state violence] to come forward in the future to seek justice,” she said.
An Epidemic of Abuse
Much of the significance of Watkins’ case stems from the sheer volume of sexual violence incidents within Ohio’s publicly run juvenile correctional facilities. According to the widely reported Bureau of Justice Statistics 2012 survey released last year, nearly 20 percent of the 329 adolescents surveyed in the state reported being abused, either by fellow youth or by staff—the highest percentage in the country. An estimated 17.1 percent of Ohio’s adjudicated youth reported one or more incidents of sexual misconduct by staff, the majority of which involved female guards abusing male juveniles.
“What is clear anecdotally and from the reports is that this is a real human rights crisis of sexual abuse in youth facilities,” Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, senior communications officer for Just Detention International, told RH Reality Check. “The overwhelming majority of sexual abuse in juvenile facilities is committed by the very people who are charged with keeping kids safe. That’s simply unacceptable.”
According to BJS, three of Ohio’s four state-run facilities ranked in the top 13 nationwide with the highest rates of sexual violence. In those centers, 30.3 percent of youth at the male-only Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility reported being sexually abused by other adolescents or employees—the second-highest percentage in the United States. Scioto, where Watkins was held, ranked number five on the BJS study, with 23.2 percent of youth in the facility reporting instances of abuse. Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correctional Facility came in at 13th, at nearly 20 percent.
These rates are more than double—if not triple—the national average of 7.1 percent.
Given the often lower number of reports made through official channels, Hanna told RH Reality Check, “When you look at [the BJS] data, it really tells us there are huge barriers to reporting these crimes within confinement facilities and also within community settings.” Those barriers, she said, include fear of retaliation, reports being disbelieved or disregarded, a lack of access to legal assistance and representation, and financial limitations—all of which can be “huge deterrent[s] for people seeking justice.” “That can impact someone’s ability to be able to even report and disclose at that time [of abuse].”
Even more “illuminating and disturbing” than the rates themselves, though, said Lerner-Kinglake, is BJS’s revelation of a “fundamental breakdown in professional boundaries” within youth correctional institutions. And this lack of competence, he said, can be traced back to management’s failure to adequately train and educate staff. “That [negligence] is widespread,” Lerner-Kinglake said.
Such failure, according to DYS data obtained by RH Reality Check, has not ended with the release of the 2012 BJS report. In 2013, there were 82 cases of alleged staff-on-youth sexual abuse, assault, and rape in DYS facilities, 76 of which the agency classified as as unsubstantiated. Of three of the four that were substantiated, some of which involved more than one employee, DYS incident reports show that one employee received a written reprimand; one employee was removed for sexual misconduct; and two were disciplined for sexual harassment and reassigned to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which oversees the adult prison population.
And as of August 12 of this year, there were a total of 46 staff-on-youth abuse cases. Sixteen of those are currently pending, 22 were unsubstantiated, and eight were, according to DYS, “unfounded.”
Harvey J. Reed, director of DYS, told the U.S. Department of Justice’s Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) panel in January that his department “was stunned” by the double-digit rates released by BJS. During his testimony, Reed said DYS “reacted quickly and aggressively” to the survey: It increased staff training, installed more cameras and mirrors for better monitoring, set up a tip line for reporting, and hired a full-time coordinator to implement PREA standards within its facilities.
Also alarmed, Gov. John Kasich formed a four-agency task force to combat the issue, while Ohio’s Controlling Board authorized $200,000 in public funds for DYS to use to contract further outside expert help in complying with PREA standards. That grant continues through September 2015.
Other state officials, like Joanna Saul of the Ohio Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, expressed similar sentiments of dismay at the high rates. But Saul’s apparently surprised reaction (she called the report “extremely disturbing and concerning”) seems emblematic of the often belated responses of administrations and governing bodies where prison populations are concerned.
Case in point: As Saul acknowledged, in May 2013, one month before BJS released its report, the inspection committee she oversees handed the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility a passing grade after an on-site inspection that March—the same institution with the second-highest rates of sexual assault in the country.
Which circles back to Scioto. Before closing this year, the institution had been the subject of official investigations for more than a decade. In 2004, both the state and the Kentucky-based Children’s Law Center ordered two independent inquiries into confinement conditions at the DYS-run institution; the Department of Justice launched its own examination nine months afterward.
Also in 2004, youth at Scioto sued the state in a federal civil rights class-action lawsuit for the center’s alleged physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of its adolescents, as well as DYS’s reported failure to adequately act upon these accusations. As part of that suit, S.H. v. Stickrath, which expanded to include all DYS facilities in 2007, juvenile corrections expert Fred Cohen, Esq. released a final report in 2008 about the quality of care in Ohio DYS facilities. According to his report, he found the state-run centers did not provide youth “with the constitutional minima relating to a safe environment.”
They are overcrowded, understaffed, and underserved “in such vital areas as safety, education, mental-health treatment and rehabilitative programming,” Cohen wrote.
A key bit in Cohen’s report would seem to support Watkins’ aforementioned claim that DYS had “knowledge of a history and a pattern of problems within the organization.” In both a 1998 and a 2004 report, Cohen noted “constitutionally deficient mental health care” and “a staff culture of violence” at Scioto. These conditions, he wrote in 2008, had not substantially changed.
Ultimately, it took 16 years from his first report for the Delaware, Ohio, institution to shut down. That closure, though, was reportedly the result of downsizing measures by DYS; youth residing in the facility were moved to community detention centers.
Changing the System to Help All Abuse Survivors
If the state were actually held directly responsible for its alleged climate of abuse, experts pointed out to RH Reality Check, its agencies would enact rules protecting youth in the long run.
As Dion noted, “Part of what civil lawsuits do is they force public entities to change their policies. If [the entities] keep getting sued, it creates that incentive.” However, with sovereign immunity in place, he said, far fewer people are suing state agencies. “Right now, they’re protected from abuse, so none of these issues are being exposed or brought to light. There’s not as much of an incentive for them to change their policies,” he continued.
Even so, Watkins’ case isn’t the first time DYS has faced a civil lawsuit for claims of childhood sexual abuse. In 2006, a former resident of the now-shuttered Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility filed a complaint against the department for injuries and damages related to sexual abuse by one of its correctional officers. The case weaved its way through the Court of Claims over a three-year period, and although immunity issues arose, it ultimately resulted in a $10,000 settlement agreement in 2009.
A similar case in 2010 involving the Cuyahoga Hills Correctional Facility was dismissed without prejudice the next year after the plaintiff could not be reached to conduct an immunity status conference.
And in May, Flagg filed a different suit in the Court of Claims against DYS and four of its employees on behalf of another former Scioto inmate, whom DYS employees allegedly sexually abused and assaulted over a six-month period. Currently, the Court is considering a motion filed by Flagg objecting to the dismissal of the employees as defendants and the prohibition of a jury trial.
When it comes to Watkins’ case, though, Ohio attorney Kircher doesn’t believe Flagg’s equal protection claim holds water from a legal standpoint, although he was “impressed” by the questioning along these lines from some of the justices. In the past, he said, the courts have upheld the constitutionality of sovereign immunity statutes even when plaintiffs have tried to invoke the 14th Amendment.
As an example, Kircher points to the state attorney’s argument that the application of the two-year statute protects taxpayers’ monies. This, he says, is supported by prior cases, such as the 1990 Menefee v. Queen City Metro. “As offensive as that may be[,] there’s case after case that says it’s a legitimate rationale,” Kircher told RH Reality Check.
“I admire this plaintiff and this attorney for bringing this issue to the Ohio Supreme Court. I don’t think they’re going to be successful in the immediate run with the court, but they’re helping amplify that the law needs to change,” Kircher told RH Reality Check.
Kircher also expects that the traditionally conservative court will defer to the state general assembly. He predicts that the justices will determine the legislature did indeed contemplate exceptions to the 12-year statute, and it’s therefore up to that body to change it.
“It refuses to be an activist court. I’ve seen that firsthand in my cases,” he said.
But, he posits, the court punting the interpretation will “put pressure” on the legislature to change the law. And much like Doe v. Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which Kercher himself took to the supreme court, was the catalyst for the Ohio assembly to pass the 12-year law in 2006, he thinks some state representatives will, as he put it, “pick up the banner of the plaintiff’s argument” and introduce a bill closing the gap between the disparate statutes within the year—and possibly pass it within two. “I think that’s what needs to be done. I do think that’s what will happen,” he asserted.
Dion, too, says action from the general assembly is necessary to create an environment that will allow survivors of alleged abuse to hold the state accountable in the future. “If the legislature is serious about reducing the abuse of children in state facilities, they have to basically create the marketplace for enforcement and for people to come forward,” Dion said.
If the state’s high court does rule in Watkins’ favor, though, Flagg believes the decision would have immense national impact, particularly on other states that do not have a clear proclamation of where shorter limitations for state actors stand in child sexual abuse cases. “This case will be precedent for those states,” the trial lawyer wrote to RH Reality Check.
Dion agrees. If the plaintiff wins, it would be a “tremendous advance” and “would allow more victims to get justice and more [perpetrators] to be exposed,” he said.
He continued, “It would create more incentives for states to prevent this crime in the first place.”
The post Ohio’s Conflicting Statutes Create Obstacles for Some Abuse Survivors appeared first on RH Reality Check.
My mother did a brave thing, the thing that everyone says she should have done: She reached out for help when she was suicidal. She called me at 1:17 in the morning instead of using the gun she had been holding in her hand for hours. And I will always be grateful that she did.
However, I know with absolute certainty that if my mother faces the same choice again—call for help or stare down the barrel of a gun alone—she will not call for help. Because what followed that night in the emergency room was degrading, humiliating, and ultimately required her to face her worst demons, her greatest emotional pain, alone and under extremely stressful circumstances.
Any intervention that stops a person from acting on suicidal urges gives the people in their lives and professionals at least one more day to help the person in distress find the resources to live. Many people have found crisis phone lines, which are staffed with highly trained counselors, very helpful. While it is hard to study the effectiveness of suicide prevention hotlines, at least one study has indicated that they are effective in reducing a person’s immediate impulse to harm themselves, and that the benefit continues past the day of the contact.
But in the future, my mother is unlikely to use a suicide prevention hotline, because she is terrified of being engulfed by a system that has not served her well in the past. She believes that if she calls a hotline and does not comply with what the counselor suggests, the counselor will call local law enforcement.
Police are usually the first responders to people having mental health emergencies. Since their training is primarily in threat assessment, this can and often does go horribly wrong, and mentally ill people end up being beaten, brutalized, or even killed.
In most areas, police have only two options: They can carry the mentally ill person to an emergency room or to prison. Neither of those options are particularly good for the patient, and both are extremely expensive.
To complicate matters, there is a national shortage of professionals who are qualified to help in psychiatric crises. Getting an emergency appointment with a psychiatrist without an emergency room is nearly impossible. In most cases, a person can expect to wait months for an initial consultation. Truly skilled practitioners are, perversely, more accessible. But only for those who can afford to pay out of pocket and hope that their insurance will reimburse them.
The reason for the shortage of psychiatrists is that mental health-care professionals are not paid at the same rate as other physicians. Combined with the stigma associated with mental illnesses, psychiatry has become a medical ghetto.
For a person experiencing a mental health crisis, the thought of seeking the sort of care that is generally recommended—initiating treatment through a mental health facility by going to an emergency room—can be daunting. The median wait time is just over eight hours for a psychiatric emergency, with the wait time increasing if patient has drugs or alcohol in their system, needs to be restrained, or needs non-psychiatric care. For people over 60 or for those without insurance (or other complications), the wait time increases by more than four hours. If there is not a bed available in the psychiatric ward of the hospital where the patient arrives, the wait time increases to a staggering 15 hours.
Emergency rooms are often not safe places for people in psychiatric distress. The environment itself, filled with anxiety and noise, is stressful. Once the patient has been assessed, there is very little ER personnel can do. The patient simply has to wait. During those intervening hours, the person’s distress can continue to build. They have plenty of time to reconsider their decision to seek help and to imagine how others will react. Staff rarely has the time to observe patients during this very distressing time, and some patients have killed themselves during the wait. In other cases, ER staff has released patients that were clearly still a danger to themselves or to others.
On the night that my mother nearly killed herself, I made a judgment call not to call 9-1-1. Instead, I stayed on the phone with her, telling her how much her family loved her as I blindly stumbled around trying to dress and find my keys and bag. My fingers went numb from panic, and my natural clumsiness escalated until I had the coordination and stealth of a rutting elephant.
Within minutes, the entire house was awake and every light was blazing. My daughter, who was 16 at the time, begged to be allowed to come with me. She rightly judged that she would be able to keep her grandmother calm and engaged while I drove.
When we got to my mother’s house, I took her hands and guided her into my car. “It is OK, Mom,” I told her. “You have had to change medications recently. We are just glad that you called.“
As I drove, I called the emergency number for my mother’s psychiatrist. When the doctor on call for the practice returned the call, I pulled over into the vast and empty parking lot of our local mall. We sat there in the island of a safety light, like the only survivors of some great shipwreck.
As soon as I answered, I put the phone on speaker. I didn’t want to talk about my mother like she wasn’t even in the car. But she could barely speak because she was working so hard at controlling the loud, heartbreaking sobs that kept bursting out of her.
The psychiatrist’s voice was clipped and brusque as he asked, “What is going on?” It was a question we would hear over and over that night.
“Never mind,” my mother said as she waved her hand. “I’m OK. Never mind.”
I did what I was told to do by the psychiatrist and took her to the local emergency room, where over and over we had to answer the same questions: Why was my mother depressed? Why did she have post-traumatic stress disorder? When was she sexually and physically abused? Had she sought care since then? Why did she stop treatment with one of the local psychiatrists? Why did she think it was a serious offense for a psychiatrist to open her mail and read it during the session? Is this an indication that she is easily angered?
The woman in billing casually asked in what year my mother was raped. Evidently, they needed that for the insurance forms. The technician who took her blood told her that God could solve her problems. The emergency doctor did not just telegraph his impatience in non-verbal ways—he actually told my mother that he did not have much time, that he had patients with serious medical conditions that required his care.
One image is burned into my brain from that night: It is of a respiratory therapist handing my mother a nebulizer. The therapist holds it in the tips of her fingers, as if she is afraid that physical contact with my mother will contaminate her. Everything from the angle of her body to the look on her face conveyed disgust and contempt.
My daughter and I sat next to my mother’s ER bed as night gave way to morning, and morning stretched into afternoon. No one really talked to us. They collected medical data. But despite the obvious trauma for everyone involved, no one helped us process the experience. No one even said to my mother, “You did the right thing, calling your daughter. We are going to try to help you.”
As the day wore on, new medical personnel came on duty. We had to answer the same questions all over again. We got all new and often unsolicited opinions about how my mother could avoid becoming “bitter.” And as the hours ticked by in that cold room, it was like we all froze over.
My mother stopped crying and her eyes went vacant. She was fine now, she said, and she wanted to go home. Of course, no one would let her.
The longer it went on, the more impact the process of “getting help” for my mother had on how each of us made sense of what had happened. When they treated the person who had almost died from a heart attack so differently from how they had just treated her, a woman who had also almost just died, my mother got the distinct message that her illness made her less worthy.
And as each person passed through my mother’s door, we began seeing her through their eyes. When they did not treat her revelations with respect and kindness, it made us seem like saps or colluders when we did. Our relationship was irrevocably changed that day as we sat in the cold metal chairs waiting for my mother to be committed to a mental health unit.
After dinner, a nurse finally came to take my mother up to the hospital’s mental health unit. We gathered up our belongings to go with her, but we were stopped by the nurse’s upraised hand. We weren’t allowed to accompany her into the unit for some reason. It had been perfectly reasonable to leave her in our care for the previous 15 hours while we waited in the emergency room, but now we were cut off from her. She would have no telephone in her room, and we could not go and see her. She was essentially a prisoner.
The night after she had tried to commit suicide, my mother was left alone in a small room, unable to reach out to a single member of her family. According to what I was told, people brought into mental health wards are allowed contact with the outside world only during very limited times. She could only call during scheduled phone breaks. She was not allowed any phone privileges until the next day. What broke in her during that night of solitude has never been repaired.
Our relationship was changed as well. Seeing my mother through the eyes of medical professionals broke through my denial, and my belief that I could fix her. In the years that followed, our relationship deteriorated and recently it ended. While the changes in our relationship that started that day have been a positive thing for me, I know it has been very painful for my mother.
The truth is that reaching out for help can mean being handed off to people who have absolutely no training in mental health and have deep prejudices against those with mental illnesses.
The good news is that the psychiatric community understands that emergency rooms are not designed to serve the needs of people in a mental crisis, and are experimenting with various alternatives. In a few major cities, major hospitals have established separate psychiatric emergency rooms. Some privately run mental health hospitals have begun offering crisis treatment in places like “The Living Room” where mental health workers and peer counselors provide faster and cheaper care.
Sadly, funding for mental health services has been eviscerated. Between 2009 and 2012, $4 billion in aid to states for mental health care was cut from the federal budget, and more cuts are slated to follow. So widespread changes are likely to happen slowly, if at all.
In the meantime, the following resources may help people in psychiatric emergencies and their families navigate the system.
A basic overview of emergency psychiatric procedures: This Wikipedia page can be helpful to family members especially in explaining the process of getting care.
General tips for navigating a visit to the emergency room: While not specific to psychiatric emergencies, these tips can be helpful in a wide variety of circumstances including psychiatric emergencies.
A suicide survivor explaining exactly what to expect from the process: Knowing what to expect can make the process less frightening for many people.
A resource guide for family members of people with mental illness: While this guide was created for Michigan residents, it offers helpful information. Look for similar guides for your area.
As a society, we need to seriously reconsider how we handle mental health care in general, and especially mental health emergencies. People who do a brave thing—those who put down the gun and pick up the phone—deserve to be treated with respect and compassion by qualified professionals. We may not be able to cure depression or end suicide, but we can start by treating people who are having mental health emergencies with humanity and understanding.
In the absence of congressional leadership on immigration, it has been a tough road for those of us seeking deportation relief for our community. This June, President Obama finally took initiative, declaring that immigration legislation was not going to be a reality this year. Therefore, he pledged, he would use his executive authority to fix what he could by “the end of the summer.” But we saw that become another broken promise last week when he announced a delay due to his party’s political priorities.
As grassroots pressure has continued to escalate over the last few months, the president has called for several meetings with Beltway organizations or individuals. Among those groups are unions, think tanks, and long-term immigration advocates—many of whom have very close ties to the White House and the Democratic Party as a whole. Rumors have swirled among activists hypothesizing that these meetings have become about “managing community expectations,” so to speak, on what the administration can do about the issue.
One thing is clear, however: We, the people directly affected by these policies, have not been invited to such gatherings, even though they are about our lives. Sometimes those in charge claim that undocumented people do not have the identification required to enter the White House; otherwise, we are blacklisted for criticizing the president’s record number of deportations. This is now how democracy works, apparently.
Last Monday, Cecilia Muñoz, Obama’s immigration advisor and one of the most influential Latinas in the White House, appeared on MSNBC with José Diaz-Balart. Apparently forgetting her background as a former immigration reform advocate, she sided with her boss’s hesitation, claiming that “the situation at the border that happened over the summer has been really, really heavily exploited by the other side of the aisle.”
However, she argued, the government’s main targets for removal are recent arrivals and those convicted of serious crimes. She even stated that the president didn’t act because he wanted to protect Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA), the deportation relief he gave to DREAMers—and she mentioned me by name as an example of one of them.
As I heard Muñoz use me, and the relief that I fought so hard for, against people like my mother and the more than 1,000 other human beings facing deportation every day, I could not help but wonder what happened to her passion for immigrant rights. Regardless of my DACA status and the fact that I can currently work legally, in two months my mother will have to return to Immigration and Customs Enforcement without knowing what will happen to her. It is a flat-out lie when Muñoz says enforcement won’t be used against people like my mom, who has no criminal record and who has been in the United States for more than 16 years. This is not just about me; it’s about my family and millions of others in similar situations around the country.
Interestingly enough, Diaz-Balart himself contradicted Muñoz’s declaration, questioning her about Luis Lopez-Acabal, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala who has taken refuge at a church because he fears being deported and separated from his wife and children, one of whom has autism. Lopez-Acabal is another perfect example of the fact that the deportation machine continues to target those who fall outside the priorities Muñoz stated—who do not have criminal records, and who have built lives and raised families in the United States.
I am disappointed to see that the administration continues to use its support for comprehensive immigration reform to get us to believe that the president cares about our community, even while he tries to excuse his stalling as part of a long-term strategy to elect more Democrats. But why throw us under the bus? Why deport so many of us for political gain?
Instead of talking about us on television, why doesn’t Muñoz take real action to ensure that both the public and the president hear our own stories from our own mouths? We are tired of being used as a talking point. When it comes to deciding our future, the administration seems to consult everyone but us. We become just a number that needs to be explained to the American people.
We are our own advocates and can speak for ourselves. We want to work together with the president to ensure any executive order protects families and holds accountable Republicans who have stood in the way of immigration reform. Yes, we are angry and frustrated at this delay, but it doesn’t mean we have given up. We have come far and we will continue to fight against the deportation machine. Stopping deportation is the first step to immigration reform as a whole.
The post The Obama Administration Must Start Speaking to DREAMers, Not Just for Us appeared first on RH Reality Check.