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Posts Tagged ‘Legal Advocacy Fund’

Today, sexual assault in the military is making headlines as another lawsuit, Shaw v. Panetta, is filed in San Francisco federal court on behalf of more than 20 U.S. Army and Air Force veterans who allege they were sexually assaulted during their military service.

Sexual assault in the military has been a frequent news story this year, in large part due to two similar class-action lawsuits against the military and the investigative documentary The Invisible War. AAUW supports all three lawsuits through our Legal Advocacy Fund.

The plaintiffs in the new suit come from a dozen states. They are suing U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the secretaries of the Army and the Navy, among others, for allegedly failing to protect the plaintiffs from rape and sexual assault while on active duty.

Following the filing, a press conference will be held in California at 11:30 a.m. Pacific time. Daniele Hoffman, one of the plaintiffs, will share her story, and Susan Burke, the lead counsel for the survivors, will talk about the case. Representatives from the two organizations helping fund the cases, AAUW and Protect Our Defenders, also will speak.

Finally, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) will speak about her efforts in Congress to reform the military justice system. In November 2011, she introduced the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act (H.R. 3435), which AAUW supports. The bill has 133 bipartisan co-sponsors.

As it did with each of the previous case filings, the U.S. Department of Defense sent representatives to speak to the media to talk about how the agency is addressing the issues. Too often, the military has given this issue lip service without making concrete changes, but it sounds like this time might be different.

In an appearance on NBC this week, Panetta said, “As difficult as [sexual assault survivors’] experience has been, we’re going to learn from that.”

He also said that the military has made significant changes this year to address the rampant problem of sexual assault, including allowing survivors to move away from alleged perpetrators, reporting assaults to people higher in the chain of command, and creating new special victims units.

This week, Panetta also ordered the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force to “improve the quality of sexual assault prevention training for their prospective commanders and senior enlisted leaders.”

I’m proud that AAUW and our members are so active on this issue and have helped pressure the military into making these changes. You can take action by hosting a community screening of The Invisible War and by donating to AAUW to support the three lawsuits. Together, let’s continue to pressure the military into making important changes so that one day, the military will be free from sexual violence.

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This week, as we celebrate Title IX’s 40th birthday and the advances the law has inspired for gender equity, it’s worth remembering AAUW’s year-round efforts to support women who have challenged sex discrimination in education. AAUW’s Legal Advocacy Fund has been instrumental in the success of many gender discrimination cases — in education and in the workplace — during its 31-year history. LAF’s case-support program provides financial and organizational backing for a select number of lawsuits that have the potential to set significant precedents for gender equity. The funds to do this come directly from the generous contributions of AAUW members. Other LAF initiatives include community and campus outreach programs, our Online Resource Library with downloadable advocacy tools, a Legal Referral Network, and research reports.

One case in which LAF played a major role is Mansourian v. Regents of the University of California. LAF first took up this case in 2005, but the women had been fighting long before that. In 2003, Arezou Mansourian, Christine Ng, and Lauren Mancuso filed suit after UC Davis eliminated women’s opportunities in wrestling and dozens of other sports. While the case continued long after they graduated, the women racked up a series of precedent-setting court victories for Title IX, including a landmark win at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which rejected the imposition of procedural hurdles to Title IX suits that challenge inequities in athletic participation. After a bench trial, the court found that the university had violated Title IX. Settlement of a spin-off, class-action lawsuit prompted improvement in the athletic participation ratios of women at UC Davis and provided funds to female athletes at the school.

After their court win, Mansourian, Ng, and Mancuso thanked AAUW members in a letter:

The case simply could not have happened without AAUW’s support. We could not have litigated this fight to victory without the fiscal support of AAUW and the moral support of its members. This case has been embraced at countless AAUW conventions and events across the country. During this long battle, AAUW had our back, and we will continue to have yours.

Mancuso told AAUW that while she was pleased by the outcome of the case, it “serves as a reminder that no matter how much progress we have made in the struggle for equality, there is still much more that needs to be done.”

As former Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN) once said, “Title IX is rather simple — don’t discriminate on the basis of sex.” But when discrimination does occur, AAUW is ready to support women like Mansourian, Ng, and Mancuso, who spent years fighting in court in order to see Title IX enforced for all of us. The Legal Advocacy Fund exists for precisely that purpose — to combat sex discrimination wherever it occurs.

A great way to celebrate 40 years of progress in education and to recognize and support future Title IX enforcement is to help us continue our case-support work by donating to the Legal Advocacy Fund.

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In April, the AAUW San Fernando Valley (CA) Branch worked with the Women’s Research and Resource Center at California State University, Northridge, to hold an event about campus sexual assault featuring campus Police Chief Anne Glavin. The event was made possible through an AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund Campus Outreach grant.

Past AAUW President Sharon Schuster spoke to the student attendees about AAUW, our fellowships and grants, and some of our accomplishments, particularly the new research report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School.

AAUW member Donna Marie Bernis spoke about the Campus SaVE Act, which focuses on preventing campus sexual assault. Then Shira Brown, director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center, introduced the police chief.

Glavin spoke eloquently about the policies and procedures that the campus police force employs in sexual assault cases and the support that is available for victims. She talked about the department’s welcoming environment and told students that there is a trained counselor on staff. Glavin introduced this counselor, Christina Villalobos, who spoke briefly about her role in the department and how she handles students’ problems confidentially.

Cal State Northridge Police Chief Anne Glavin speaks to students about campus sexual assault.

Glavin talked about other resources the department provides, such as self-defense classes, which can be taken for course credit. She described how the university has gone beyond implementing the national requirements of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act and guidance given by the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women. She closed by taking questions from the audience. Cal State Northridge’s campus newsletter, Daily Sundial, wrote a nice article about Glavin’s presentation, which spread the event’s message beyond just the students who were able to attend.

To show their appreciation, AAUW branch members presented Glavin with a certificate of appreciation and a congressional certificate from Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA). AAUW member Lane Sherman also gave the chief a flag, donated by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), that had flown over the nation’s Capitol.

The event was successful in a number of ways. It ensured that Glavin’s important message and information reached students and AAUW members. The talk also connected our branch with the Women’s Research and Resource Center. The leaders at the center offered free use of their facilities for our future meetings, a resource we will certainly use. Also, there is a possibility that we will start an AAUW student organization  at Cal State Northridge.

Organizing this event took tremendous effort, and we considered cancelling it more than once. In the end, we were glad that we persevered and succeeded in putting on this wonderful and precedent-setting program.

This post was written by Jackie Zev, who has been a member of the AAUW San Fernando Valley (CA) Branch since 1982 and serves as the treasurer’s assistant and newsletter editor.

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Sexual assault in the military is a significant problem, one that affects 20 percent of women and 1 percent of men in the armed forces, according to the new documentary The Invisible War. This is an issue of great concern to AAUW, and last week we hosted a private screening of the Sundance Film Festival award-winning movie, which documents the pervasiveness of sexual assault in the military.

During the screening, many of the 50 community leaders in attendance cried after hearing the stories of the brave survivors of sexual assault and rape. The audience voiced outrage over the retaliation the veterans faced and the lack of medical attention they received for injuries relating to the rapes. People were audibly disgusted when the film highlighted the military prevention program — especially the ineffective and inappropriate directives that tell women to go places with a buddy and tell men to “wait until she’s sober.” When the film ended, it was clear to everyone that a lot of change is needed to turn our military from a good one to one that is truly great and safe for all of its service members.

4.26.12 invisible war screening at aauw dc

From left: Klay v. Panetta plaintiff Elle Helmer, The Invisible War producer Amy Ziering, AAUW Executive Director Linda Hallman, and Legal Advocacy Fund Program Manager Holly Kearl

Following the screening, there was a discussion with producer Amy Ziering and Elle Helmer, whose story was featured in the film. Helmer is a plaintiff in one of the two military sexual assault lawsuits that AAUW is supporting through our Legal Advocacy Fund case support program. Thanks to an AAUW Case Support Travel Grant Helmer was also able to speak about the lawsuit and her experiences at the AAUW of Florida state convention last weekend.

Helmer was an officer in the U.S. Marines who served at the prestigious Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., from 2005 to 2006. She says she was raped in 2006 in the company commander’s office. As Helmer recounts in The Invisible War, she reported the rape, but her report was never taken seriously, and she faced retaliation. When she wanted to go the hospital for medical help, she was told, “You’re not broken; you’re just dusty. You’ll get into a lot of trouble if you go to the hospital.” Then, after she went to the hospital and had a rape kit done, it was “misplaced.” Her alleged assailant was never charged.

Viewing the film and hearing Helmer’s story and the discussion afterward spurred attendees to want to take action. Fortunately, there are many ways for them — and for you — to get involved.

  1. Visit The Invisible War website, and “like” their Facebook page.
  2. Contact your congressional representatives about the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (the STOP Act), which addresses the structural changes needed in the military.
  3. Attend a showing of The Invisible War in Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, or Washington, D.C. The film opens on June 22. If you live in those areas, please plan to attend, and bring as many people with you as you can, especially on opening night. The number of people who attend in the first week will determine if the film will open in other cities, too.
  4. Donate to AAUW to help offset the legal costs of Cioca v. Rumsfeld and Klay v. Panetta, the military sexual assault lawsuits that we’re supporting.

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Last week, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) gave an eloquent speech advocating for the reauthorization of the Violence against Women Act. In addition to sharing her own stories of sexual abuse, she said that “violence against women is as American as apple pie.”

Sadly, she’s right. A December 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as many as many as 1 in 3 women have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. And as more and more men come forward with their sexual abuse stories, it’s clear that sexual abuse does seem to be an American tradition.

This is not OK. But you can speak out and challenge this tradition of violence. Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, now is the perfect time. Here are 10 ways that you can get involved.

1. Believe and help survivors if they confide in you. Visit the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) website to find information that will help you help the survivor. They also have information to help you — the friends and family of survivors.

2. Find help. If you are a survivor who isn’t sure where to turn or how to get help, contact RAINN’s phone or online hotlines and visit their website for information about recovery.

  • Are you in the military? Call RAINN’s Safe Helpline, which is specifically for survivors in the military.
  • Are you male? Visit 1in6, a website with resources designed specifically for you.  

3. Write your senators. Send a quick e-mail or make a phone call to your senators asking them to reauthorize the Violence against Women Act. This is an issue that the AAUW Action Fund Lobby Corps, a volunteer group of AAUW members, has focused on over the last few months. They’ve succeeded in adding more senators as co-sponsors, but your help is still needed.

4. #TweetAboutIt. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center provides a variety of tools each year for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year, they’re hosting a Tweet about It Tuesday discussion on Twitter every Tuesday at 2 p.m. EDT throughout April. They’re using the hashtag #TweetAboutIt. Read more and join in.

5. Wear jeans on April 25 as part of Denim Day in LA and USA. The day is a visible way to protest against the misconceptions that surround sexual assault. Order their Denim Day Action Kit and raise awareness at your workplace, neighborhood, or community. AAUW staff participated in 2011, and I recently ordered pins for us to wear when we participate again this year.

6. Advocate against military sexual assault. Sexual assault in the military is a well-documented problem, and addressing it is one of the AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund’s current priorities.

7. Do something about campus sexual assault. The rates of campus sexual assault are quite high, yet prevention programs or proper channels for handling perpetrators are often inadequate.

8. Use the arts or join a march. Take part in or organize arts-based initiatives or a march to raise awareness about sexual assault. Get involved in one of these popular initiatives:

  • The Clothesline Project: Women affected by violence decorate a shirt and hang it on a clothesline in public as testimony to the problem of sexual violence.
  • V-Day: Communities can hold a performance or a film screening to raise awareness about violence against women and girls and to raise money for local organizations that are working to end violence. Last week, AAUW sponsored a Vagina Monologues performance hosted by the D.C. Women’s Theater Group, and the proceeds went to RAINN. Visit the V-Day website to learn more about how to organize a V-Day event.
  • White Ribbon Campaign: By wearing a white ribbon, you can make a personal pledge to “never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women and girls.” You can order materials online.
  • Take Back the Night March: Popular on college campuses, this march takes place after dark and makes a statement that women have the right to be in public at night without the risk of sexual violence. Order a kit online.

9. Apply for a grant for campus programs. On a rolling basis, AAUW members can apply for AAUW’s Legal Advocacy Fund Campus Outreach Grants and receive up to $750 to hold an event about sexual assault on a local campus. This April, AAUW groups in Arkansas, Illinois, and New York are hosting campus events on this topic.

10. Apply for a grant for academic or community work. AAUW’s fellowships and grants offer numerous funding opportunities for members of the public. Some of the current and past awardees have focused their work on sexual violence issues, and you can, too. Read the application information.

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Plaintiff Ariana Klay speaking at the March 6, 2012 National Press Conference

“You need to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. … I can’t babysit you all of the time” was the response a Marine officer gave to Elle Helmer when she reported being raped by another Marine. Helmer was a public information officer at the U.S. Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., and she is one of eight current and former active-duty service members who filed a lawsuit against the military on Tuesday.

The plaintiffs are accusing U.S. military officials of creating a culture in which sexual assault and rape is tolerated and in which people who report it face retaliation. The lawsuit focuses specifically on the U.S. Marine Barracks.

At a National Press Club event on Tuesday, Helmer and Ariana Klay, another plaintiff who is a Naval Academy graduate and Iraq war veteran, courageously shared their stories before a room of journalists.

Klay said that she was gang raped by another Marine and his civilian (but former Marine) friend and then sexually harassed by several officers. Her story illustrates the victim-blaming that many survivors face if they speak out and the lack of initiatives focused on preventing or addressing sexual assault and harassment.

When Klay reported the harassment and rape, she said that she felt like she was the one on trial. She said that, during the investigation, she was told that she must have welcomed the attention by wearing makeup, dressing in regulation-length skirts (as part of her uniform), and exercising in running shorts and tank tops.

One of the rapists was court-martialed but, as often happens in the cases of reported rapes, was convicted of a lesser crime: adultery and indecent language. Nothing happened to the men who harassed her.

The stories of both women are included in the documentary The Invisible War, which won the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award.

During the Press Club event, several speakers — including the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Susan Burke — talked about the lack of checks and balances within the military structure when it comes to these types of crimes. Survivors must report crimes internally, and they are handled internally instead of by civilian law enforcement or court systems. One outcome the plaintiffs want to see is a change in this structure so that survivors can seek help and justice outside of their military chain of command.

You can help. Contact your congressional representative and ask her or him to support the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act). This pending piece of legislation mandates the kinds of structural changes that the plaintiffs and AAUW want to see.

AAUW Executive Director Linda Hallman spoke at the event, and I’m proud to say that AAUW is offering financial support to both this lawsuit and a similar one that was filed last year, Cioca v. Rumsfeld. We know that speaking out publicly, as Klay, Helmer, and the other plaintiffs are, is critical. And we know that backlash and retaliation can be fierce. We stand with them as they stand for justice.

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Last week, the University of California and former UC Davis female student wrestlers Arezou Mansourian, Christine Ng, and Lauren Mancuso announced that they had reached an agreement to settle their lawsuit against the university. The plaintiffs originally filed suit in 2003, and in August 2011, the U.S. District Court for Eastern California found that the university violated Title IX by not sufficiently expanding intercollegiate athletic opportunities for female students at UC Davis between 1998 and 2005, the years that the plaintiffs were in attendance, and found the university solely responsible for this violation. The court was to begin assessing damages in March 2012, but the parties chose instead to resolve all remaining issues, including any possible appeals, with payment by the university of $1.35 million to the plaintiffs’ counsel for attorneys’ fees and costs incurred during the lengthy case. The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund supported the plaintiffs in this case and commends the $1.35 million settlement in their favor.

Dear AAUW members and supporters:

As we celebrate a great settlement that resolves Mansourian v. Regents of the University of California, we wanted to extend our heartfelt thanks for the tremendous support of AAUW and its members throughout the country for our efforts to enforce Title IX. Three brave young women, Arezou Mansourian, Christine Ng, and Lauren Mancuso, filed suit in 2003 demanding equal athletic opportunities for women after the university eliminated women’s opportunities in wrestling and dozens more in other women’s sports. While the case continued long after their graduations, Plaintiffs racked up a series of victories for Title IX, including a landmark win at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which rejected the imposition of procedural hurdles to Title IX suits challenging athletic participation inequities and a decision following a three-week bench trial finding the University in violation for Title IX. Settlement of a spin-off class case prompted improvement in the athletic participation ratios of female students at UC Davis and has funded to date the award of over $70,000 in grants to developing female athletes on campus by the Women In Sports Equity (WISE) Fund. Yesterday, we announced the settlement of the case, with a payment by the University of $1,350,000 to resolve our clients’ claims.

The case simply could not have happened without AAUW’s support. The legal team – Equal Rights Advocates, Equity Legal, and The Sturdevant Law Firm – are a non-profit and small firms with very limited resources. We could not have litigated this fight to victory without the fiscal support of AAUW and the moral support of its members. AAUW members attended every day of our three-week trial in Sacramento last May and June. They brought us food and were a constant friendly face on even the toughest of days. This case has been embraced at countless AAUW conventions and events across the country. During this long battle, AAUW had our back and we will continue have yours. Equal Rights Advocates will continue its work to ensure equity for women and girls – in the classroom, on the playing fields and at our workplaces. We look forward to many more years of collaborating with the AAUW on cases and programs that empower women and girls. On behalf of Equal Rights Advocates, our clients and co-counsel, I thank you all.

Noreen Farrell
Interim Executive Director
Equal Rights Advocates

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