At the Texas Capitol, victims of sexual harassment must fend for themselves

posted in: In the News | 0

At Texas Capitol, victims of sexual harassment must fend for themselves

by Alexa Ura, Morgan Smith, Jolie McCullough and Edgar Walters,
The Texas Tribune
Mon 7:03 PM, Nov 13, 2017 |
Updated: Mon 8:05 PM, Nov 13, 2017

Disgust overwhelmed her when she felt his tongue on her hand.

A capitol staffer, she had been at a large party celebrating the end of a legislative session a few years ago and was on her way out when a male lawmaker she had never spoken to reached for her.

“You can’t leave yet,” the staffer remembers the lawmaker telling her as he held her hand tightly. She thought he was going to bring her hand to his mouth and kiss it. Instead, he licked it and refused to let go.

“It was in a crowded place,” said the staffer, who no longer works at the Capitol and spoke to The Texas Tribune on the condition of anonymity for fear it would affect her current job. “Maybe it was so subtle that no one else saw anything [but] the audacity of someone to do that and think it’s OK — it just boggled my mind.”

As sexual misconduct accusations pile up against men in power across the country, interviews with more than two dozen current and former lawmakers and legislative aides indicate sexual harassment not only is pervasive at the Texas Capitol but also regularly goes unchecked. Most of those interviewed described how men at the Capitol — some of them lawmakers — engaged in a wide range of harassment, including degrading comments and gestures, groping and unwanted sexual advances.

Yet not a single formal complaint of sexual harassment has been filed in either the House or Senate since 2011, according to a review of public records and interviews with officials responsible for fielding complaints. Even though sexual harassment policies have been in place for two decades, few employees interviewed by the Tribune even knew they could file a formal complaint.

The policies themselves are outdated — both reference a state agency that no longer exists — and rely on Capitol officials with little incentive or authority to enforce them, particularly in cases of harassment by lawmakers.

“Well, you know we can’t fire them. The people get to fire them,” said Patsy Spaw, of elected officials. As the secretary of the senate, Spaw’s duties include resolving complaints in the chamber.

“There’s nothing to talk about”

Many of those interviewed spoke of a Capitol culture that offers little support for victims and expressed fears that speaking out would lead to retaliation or career sabotage. Instead, women who work in the Legislature said they try to protect one another by quietly exchanging stories. They pass along the names of men to stay away from and the hallways in the Capitol to avoid.

“You either created a distance or didn’t place yourself in situations where you had to interact with them,” said a former staffer who dealt with unwelcome advances from a lawmaker on the Senate floor and at an end-of-session party.

Another former staffer described the Capitol as a place where sexual harassment is “as common as a hello,” where powerful men can prey on employees with impunity. She recounted greeting several guests at a lobbyist’s party who were sitting at a table. Among them was a lawmaker, who in a “split second” shot his hand up her skirt.
The staffer said she pushed his hand away and quickly left the event in distress. She remembers being thankful for wearing the “right underwear,” noting that otherwise he could have penetrated her.

Please click on title for the rest of the story.

Analysis: Changing the boys’ club culture at the Texas Capitol

posted in: In the News | 0

Analysis: Changing the boys’ club culture at the Texas Capitol

by Ross Ramsey Nov. 15, 2017

AUSTIN — It’s hard to argue that Texas lawmakers do as much as they could to protect the victims of sexual harassment in the state Capitol — staffers, lobbyists and even some female lawmakers. It’s been a boys club for a long, long time.

Hey, Texas legislators, how about setting an example once in a while?

It could be something simple, like getting rid of — or perhaps, at least, editing — that historically false Confederate war marker in the extension to the Texas Capitol. It might’ve been easier to do it 24 years ago, when the extension opened and the plaque in question was moved to its new location. But there’s always time to correct a mistake.

Or something else that’s well-identified but slippery and harder to achieve, like significant reform to the ethics laws for state officeholders — reforms that have been on the emergency-items-not-addressed lists for Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Legislature for four years now. Self-regulation is always hard, especially when it gets tangled up with the kind of score-settling that starts in political campaigns and takes hold when the winners take office.

Or maybe, legislators could set their sights on one of the oldest and least acknowledged issues in this and many other governments (not to mention the movie and media industries, to name two) — that of sexual predators with official titles preying on staffers, lobbyists and, once in a while, each other. That cultural cancer — the subject of a cringeworthy story by The Texas Tribune’s Alexa Ura, Morgan Smith, Jolie McCullough and Edgar Walters — is only partly about the sexual harassment that plagues the Legislature and the people around it; it’s also about the failure of the system to give the victims meaningful help or recourse.

That failure is something the leaders in the executive and legislative branches can repair, if they want to.

The great state of Texas has had 5,415 men in the Legislature and only 155 women. This is and always has been a boys club, often marked by misbehavior. But sex and sexual harassment aren’t the same thing. The first involves mutual consent; the second doesn’t. And that’s where the leaders can do some good, if they are so inclined — they can make a distinction in their rules and laws, and make it stick. As it stands, women in the Capitol can’t do much to stop harassment; reporting it carries career and professional risks and little assurance that anything will happen to the predators who assault them. Too much of the time, it’s a take-it-or-quit culture.

It’s not easy. A woman on the House side could bring a complaint to the House Administration Committee, but there’s not really a procedure there to protect her and her job if she does. She’s going to run into Charlie Geren, the Fort Worth Republican who heads that committee. Here’s what he told the Tribune when asked about complaints: “There’s nothing to talk about because we don’t have any. I don’t deal in ifs. When there’s one I’ll handle it. And that’s it.”

If he’s right, the Texas House of Representatives might be the safest workplace for women in the United States, which is lucky, since you can’t sue the state without the state’s permission.

Geren’s in no position to police this, anyway. Each of the 183 representatives and senators, their staffers and the lobbyists who haunt the halls is tied together in a system of trades, favors, debates and relationships that conflict with their ability to settle disputes over sexual harassment. Geren has the same conflict of interest everyone else does. He’s got bills to pass — an imperative that competes with the need to police fellow lawmakers.

This legislator needs that legislator to pass a bill, to get out of the way, to do something or not do something; horning in on that touchy business with something as volatile as a sexual harassment claim messes with the work they’re hired to do.

That’s not an excuse for the way they act; it’s a description of the conflict of interest that prevents even trustworthy and moral legislators from protecting the victims of the Capitol’s worst occupants. And there are already calls to action coming from state officials who want to make it a safer place for women.
Anyone working in the Texas Capitol — whether on their own account, on the state payroll or on behalf of someone who can afford a lobbyist — ought to be safe from sexual predators and protected when they report harassment. That’s not how it is right now: In practice, the predators are free to do what they’ve always done.

Sex offender registries endanger the lives they’re meant to protect

posted in: In the News | 0

Sex offender registries endanger the lives they’re meant to protect

By Miriam Aukerman October 26, 2017

Our communities deserve effective public-safety measures that are based on facts and sound research, not wasteful and counterproductive measures born of fear. We all want to be safe. We have to demand our legislators pass laws that work and actually keep us safe.

That’s especially true when it comes to sexual offenses.

A Michigan man we’ll call John Doe met a woman in 2005 at a club open only to those ages 18 and up. He didn’t know it when they slept together, but she was actually 15. Today, 12 years later, they are married with two children. But John was also arrested and placed on Michigan’s sex offender registry for the rest of his life.

He has lost countless jobs when employers learned of his status. He’s been periodically homeless, unable to live with his wife and kids. He can’t even attend his own children’s basketball games or see them graduate from high school.

John is not alone.

There are thousands of men and women across the country who have received life sentences — not to remain behind bars — but rather to suffer and endure the stigma and discrimination that follows anyone whose name appears on a sex offender registry.

But things are looking up for John. This month the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a lower court’s decision that Michigan’s sex offender registry law is so ineffective that it is unconstitutional. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals not only found that Michigan’s registry treats those on it as “moral lepers,” but also concluded, based on a mountain of evidence, that registries don’t keep people safe.

As the Court pointed out, registries may actually increase offending and have “at best, no impact on recidivism,” probably because they make it so “hard for registrants to get and keep a job, find housing, and reintegrate into their communities.”

Michigan will have now have to rewrite its unconstitutional registration law. The only moral and logical thing for Michigan — and other states — to do is to abolish the sex offender registry.

Why? Well, for starters, registries just don’t work.

The scientific consensus is that registries don’t actually do anything to prevent sex offenses, which means they’re an enormous waste of taxpayer resources. Michigan’s registry, the fourth largest in the country, is bloated, with nearly 44,000 registrants, and growing by about five people every day. There are more than 850,000 registrants nationwide.

Registries are dangerous because they push registrants to the margins of society, making it harder for them to get jobs or an education, find homes or take care of their families. Draconian restrictions mean registrants face years in prison if they to do something as simple as borrow a car without immediately notifying the police. And the internet has turned these registries into modern-day scarlet letters, leading to harassment and even vigilantism.
The good news is that there are effective ways to keep our families and communities safe. We need to focus on prevention and support the critical work being done by sexual assault survivor groups. We need to recognize that the vast majority of child sex abuses cases — about 93 percent — are committed by family members or acquaintances, not strangers, and focus on where the real danger is.
We need to educate our children, not only so that they don’t become victims, but also so they don’t do things, like sending inappropriate texts that could land them on a registry. And we need to partner with the treatment community so that people get the help and services they need to lead productive lives.
It’s possible that the Supreme Court will eventually strike down a state’s sex offender registry law. But we don’t need to wait for the high court to rule on sex offender registries before taking action. Congress should replace the Sex Offender Registry National Act (SORNA), a misguided law that incentivizes states to continue these failed policies, and redirect those resources to prevention, treatment and support of survivors.
Let’s replace our broken registry with a comprehensive system that actually protects our communities. We owe it to our kids.
Source: The Hill-Miriam Aukerman is a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan and manages the ACLU’s West Michigan Regional Office. Aukerman litigates high-impact cases on a broad range of civil liberties issues, with a particular focus on immigrant rights, poverty and criminal justice.

Judge strikes down Kentucky’s social media ban for sex offenders

posted in: In the News | 0

Judge strikes down Kentucky’s social media ban for sex offenders

84th legislative session, House Bill 1914

By: By John Cheves – October 20, 2017

Frankfort Kentucky’s registered sex offenders have the constitutional right to use Facebook, Twitter and other online social media, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Ruling in a lawsuit brought by a Lexington child pornography defendant identified only as “John Doe,” U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove struck down Kentucky’s sweeping restrictions on internet access for registered sex offenders.

“This is a very important decision,” said Scott White, a Lexington attorney who represented Doe. “The laws effectively deprived anyone on the sex offender registry of access to the most effective forms of communication that we have today. It was a complete suppression of speech.”.

One law prohibited sex offenders from using social networking websites or instant messaging or chat rooms that potentially could be “accessible” to children — which is to say, much of the internet. The other law required sex offenders to keep their probation or parole officers updated on all of their email addresses and various online identities.

Van Tatenhove cited a unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in June that struck down a similar North Carolina ban on social media for sex offenders, in part because so many civic institutions — from elected officials to news media — are now tied into social media.

For example, the Herald-Leader’s website would be off-limits to sex offenders under the state’s ban because it has a comments section open to the public, Van Tatenhove wrote.

Kentucky’s law “burdens substantially more speech than necessary to further the commonwealth’s legitimate interests in protecting children from sexual abuse solicited via the Internet,” Van Tatenhove wrote.

“Indeed, rather than prohibiting a certain type of conduct that is narrowly tailored to prevent child abuse, the statute prevents Mr. Doe and others similarly situated from accessing what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge,” he wrote.
In 2015, Doe sued Fayette County prosecutors and the state’s Justice and Public Safety Cabinet to challenge the internet access restrictions, arguing that they violated his First Amendment right to free speech and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process under the law.


Parole Set Offs for Agg Sexual Assault Info

posted in: In the News | 0

Parole Set Offs for Agg Sexual Assault Info

84th legislative session, House Bill 1914

Relating to the frequency with which the Board of Pardons and Paroles considers the eligibility of certain inmates for release on parole.

H.B. 1914 would provide the Board of Pardons and Paroles the discretion to delay reconsideration for parole after an initial denial for up to ten years, instead of five years, for offenders convicted of aggravated sexual assault and offenders serving a life sentence for a capital felony.

Clarification on Parole Set-Offs for inmate’s charges with Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child (22.021): According to the Parole Board website resources, inmates who were charged with 22.021, if denied parole, will receive their next review in no less than 3 years and no more than 10 years.

N/R: denied favorable parole action and set for review in 36, 60, 84 or 120 months.

This policy applies to the following persons who are eligible for up to a ten year setoff: capital felons with a life sentence, who are eligible for parole, or persons convicted of an offense under Section 22.021 [Aggravated Sexual Assault] of the Penal Code.

The sex-offender panic is destroying lives

posted in: In the News | 0

The sex-offender panic is destroying lives

The Washington Post – By Radley Balko 09/19/17

The video below tells the story of Shawna, an Oklahoma woman who is still in mandatory treatment because 15 years ago, when she was 19, she had sex with a boy who was 14. Over at the Marshall Project, David Feige has more about the unlikely people swept up in the sex-offender panic for offenses most of us wouldn’t associate with a typical sexual predator. Take the case of Adrian:

Adrian was a junior at North Dakota State majoring in business management, when he travelled to Miami for spring break. There, he met a girl at an 18-and-over club. They flirted and danced, then walked to the beach where they had sex. They spent about five days together, hanging out on and off and occasionally hooking up.

Adrian returned to college after the trip and all seemed well, until seven months later when he got a call from a detective with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. As it turns out, the girl had used a fake ID to get into the club. She was actually 15 years old at the time. Her mom filed a complaint when she found out what had happened.

Asked to return to Miami to answer some questions, Adrian took a bus back to Florida. He explained to the detective that everything was consensual, and that he’d assumed the girl must have been 18 or older since she was in the club. Officers recorded his statement, thanked him for his co-operation, handcuffed him and placed him under arrest. Unable to post the $40,000 bond set by a judge, Adrian remained in jail for nearly eight months. It was the first and only time he’d ever been arrested.

In Florida, as in most other states, the fact that the girl was a willing participant was not a defense. Having admitted to the affair and facing some twenty years in prison, Adrian had no choice but to plead guilty to four counts of lewd and lascivious battery of a person under 16. That guilty plea guaranteed he’d spend the rest of his life listed on Florida’s sex offender registry . . .

Five years after his guilty plea, Adrian had been rejected from more jobs than he could count. Unable to find housing that complied with a Miami ordinance that prevents registrants from living within 2,500 feet of any public or private school, daycare center or playground, Adrian was forced into homelessness. He slept in a car parked in a lot — one of the few places sex offenders are actually allowed to reside. His college career was over, as was any hope he ever harbored of having a productive life. Then, two years ago, almost a decade after his conviction, Adrian failed to properly register his whereabouts with the police. As a result, he was sentenced to three years in prison.

Yes, we should discourage 19-year-olds from having sex with 14-year-olds, and 21-year-olds from having sex with 15-year-olds. But these people aren’t predators. They aren’t pedophiles. They showed poor judgment and had non-coercive sex with partners who were physically mature. (Yes, the law says any sex with a minor is de facto coercive.) Perhaps we should punish them, but we shouldn’t seek to utterly destroy them. And in Adrian’s case, the lack of intent makes what happened to him all the more unjust. It’s all the worse when you consider how little evidence there is that these laws do anything to protect society from actual predators.

Meanwhile, the Washington state Supreme Court has just upheld a state law allowing prosecutors to charge minors who send nude photos of themselves to other people …. as child pornographers. If convicted, that means mandatory prison time and a lifetime on the sex-offender list.

Tenth Circuit splits in holding revocation enhancements for SOs unconstitutional

posted in: In the News | 0

Tenth Circuit splits in holding revocation enhancements for SOs unconstitutional

By Robin September 5, 2017

By Robin . . . Splitting two-to-one in a case out of Oklahoma, a panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that 18. U.S.C. 3583 (k) violates the 5th and 6th Amendments by requiring a revocation judge to impose a longer sentence for the original conviction based on the facts presented for purposes of revocation (and upon which revocation relied). This peculiar enhancement only applied to individuals who were originally convicted of a sexually-based offense and subsequently revoked while serving time on probation.

The italicized language is what the Court struck from 3583 (k):
If a defendant required to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act commits any criminal offense under chapter 109A, 110, or 117, or section 1201 or 1591, for which imprisonment for a term longer than 1 year can be imposed, the court shall revoke the term of supervised release and require the defendant to serve a term of imprisonment under subsection (e)(3) without regard to the exception contained therein. Such term shall be not less than 5 years. 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) (emphasis added).
The italicized language violates the Constitution by increasing the term of imprisonment authorized by statute based on facts found by a judge, not by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and by tying the available punishment to subsequent conduct, rather than the original crime of conviction. U.S. v. Haymond, No. 16-5156 (10th Cir. 2017) at 25.
For additional analysis by the Court, please visit Sentencing Law and Policy.

Reasonable shelter denied to registrants facing horrific storms

posted in: In the News | 0

Reasonable shelter denied to registrants facing horrific storms

By Sandy September 6, 2017

By Sandy . . . With hurricane season upon us, and some especially dangerous ones already sweeping through Texas, Louisiana, and now Florida, we are beginning to hear of bad situations and civil rights violations..

From Texas, the reports are fairly consistent that registrant evacuees on parole or probation were required to report to police or sheriff headquarters and be sheltered in jails.

Derek Logue, in his “Riders of the Storm” essay wrote that, in Texas, “ KXAN of Austin, TX reported a screening process was in place to weed out registered persons, adding they would be placed in ‘appropriate shelters’ without elaborating further.”

This report, edited some for length, was received just today by the director of Texas Voices and was forwarded to NARSOL.

[This is] to inform you what the TDCJ parole division did to some of us in the (City name redacted) area. On Friday, Aug 25 at 1:30 a.m. I received a call that I was required to report to the parole office at 8:00 a.m. to board a bus to be evacuated. I informed them I would have to leave my 90-year-old mother alone to do that. They told me if I didn’t report a blue warrant would be issued for my arrest. With less than 24 hours before the storm hit they put us on a bus to the Ben Reed Transition center in Houston. The local parole officers could offer no explanations or reasons for the decision to evacuate us from our city to a place that was predicted to be in the direct path of the storm and receive record-breaking rainfall…the facility began to flood Friday night and Saturday night. By Sunday night we had to evacuate the building and wade through knee deep, diesel oil and sewage polluted water to another building at 3am. By 9 am that building we moved to was flooding and we moved to an upstairs hallway where we spent 2 days sitting in a hallway with no place to lie down or sleep, no staff supervision, and no food…Finally after several calls to Austin TDC (both the parole and institutional division) some TDCJ personnel showed up Tuesday afternoon. We were served a half of an egg sandwich and told we were going to be moved to 2 different TDCJ prison units. That included the 38 of us evacuated from our city area as well as the 500 residents of Ben Reed.
…[W]e boarded a bus which left Houston at midnight. By 8:30 am we were checked into the Holiday unit and given a mat on the gym floor. We were lied to every step of the way by everyone involved. We were told that we would stay in our street clothes and get to take our hygiene items into Holiday, but that turned out to be incorrect. We were stripped out, dressed in prison whites, and our property was taken as we were re-incarcerated without the right of due process.
The 38 of us were finally sent back to our city on Thursday afternoon. I [want] to make sure that TDCJ looks at where they fell short in this situation…
I am mostly curious as to what right TDCJ parole division had to put us back in prison without due process!
This is just a brief overview of what went on, and I know that we were more fortunate than a vast number of people who suffered catastrophic losses due to the storm. I in no way mean to diminish their loss.
In “Riders of the Storm,” Derek Logue also writes, “KSLA reported shelters open in Louisiana were also going to screen for ‘sex offenders.’ ”
Other sources in Louisiana have sent this:
Louisiana Law: RS 29.726 E (14) 9c (i) requires that registered sex offenders that seek public sheltering must be housed separate and apart from the general population. The state’s plan is to have a “unique population” shelter at a state prison in northern Louisiana, with capacity for 120—in a state with over 12,000 registrants!
That means separation of families. Single parents will be directed to give custody to other family members, or the state will take custody. “This includes … ensuring that sheltering needs are met for special needs persons (… children separated from single parents designated as registered sex offenders, etc). [LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES ESF-6 EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT OPERATIONS PLAN]
Apparently, registrants who have special medical needs will not be allowed in the medical shelters. None of the plans address this possibility.

It is a huge issue that registered citizens are expected to abandon their family (most significantly, their children) just to go to these “special” shelters.

In Florida, a posting on the Polk County Sheriff’s Twitter page says, “If you go to a shelter for #Irma, be advised: sworn LEOs will be at every shelter, checking IDs. Sex offenders/predators will not be allowed.”
To the credit of many of the respondents to the Tweet, criticism about Sheriff Grady Judd’s posting was heavy.