I am a rape survivor. NOT a victim, a survivor. This is my story. (Part II)

Maria Moore, Guest Blogger (’16, University of North Carolina School of Law)

I have always been very open sexually and have never had any problem expressing my sexuality. It could be argued that this is the result of what happened to me at a young age, but I don’t really care what caused it because it is a part of who I am and I would never change it.

In the summer of 2003, I decided I was tired of being a virgin, so I offered myself to a friend, who I will call Larry. It was quick, painful, and entirely unremarkable in any way. It was all over in a matter of minutes and I felt no different after it happened. Why do I tell you this? Because Larry became an accomplice to my rape.

Two days after I lost my virginity, I went swimming at a friend’s apartment complex. After swimming for awhile, I headed back to her apartment to change in broad daylight, in the middle of the afternoon, on a path I had repeatedly walked

I never made it to my friend’s apartment. Larry stopped me. He was with a friend of his, an attractive, tall, very skinny boy with dreads, who Larry told me was named Mark. Apparently, Larry had made an arrangement with Mark for me to have sex with him for a bag of marijuana. I was not party to this conversation. Larry said that since I was a “hoe” now, it should not bother me to have sex with Mark, especially since I was helping out a friend. He told me that I should go with Mark into an abandoned apartment in the apartment complex and have sex with him upstairs. Several people from the neighborhood had done drugs in the apartment so it was “safe.”

I protested that I was barefoot and a briar patch in front of the apartment’s broken back door, so I would not be able to safely make it there without hurting my feet. I then proceeded to head to my friend’s home, thinking I was in the clear.

Larry picked me up and carried me to the abandoned apartment, with Mark in tow.

Why didn’t I scream when my friends were very likely within hearing distance? Why didn’t I fight, kick, punch, scratch, tear, or otherwise try to escape? The answer is that I had been lead to believe that rape was a violent attack, one that happened in the deep of night, when a stranger dragged you into an alley. I knew to kick that stranger in the balls and run. I had no clue what to do in this situation.

Once in the apartment, Larry deposited me in the second floor bedroom and disappeared. At this point, Mark asked me if I wanted to have sex. I said no. He began to remove my bikini bottom. I said no. He put a condom on. I said no. He pushed me (not hard) onto the floor. I said no. He raped me. I covered my face in my hands and sobbed, praying that it would just be over and I could leave unscathed. All of the sudden, it stopped the same way it had started. A boy who was in my gym class at school was peering around the doorway from the stairs. I couldn’t even tell you his name now, but he knew what was happening. Mark got up and bolted. I never saw him again.

I ran to the bathroom, which was completely dark. There was no power in the apartment and no toilet paper. I sat on the seat in my bikini top and I cried and cried and cried. Finally, I managed to grab my bikini bottom and walk down the stairs. The apartment was utterly filthy, filled with condom wrappers, cigarette butts, broken glass, and the insides of cigars that had long ago been filled with marijuana and smoked.

I sat down on the fireplace and cried. I did not move until my friend, whose home I had been intending to walk to, came in and asked me what had happened. I could not speak. I allowed her to help me up off the bricks and out of the house. Larry was standing outside when I walked out, along with a crowd of other friends and acquaintances who lived in the neighborhood or frequently came to visit.

“Fuck you, Larry!” was all I could get out through my tears. I walked to an A/C unit and sat down, feeling like the absolute worst bit of nothing that had ever existed. I felt dirty, I felt used, but oddly, I did not feel that I had been raped. As I said, rape was this thing where you were beaten and tied up, maybe tortured. It was certainly not something that happened in the daylight hours in a familiar neighborhood at the behest of a friend to whom you had recently lost your virginity.

I don’t remember much of what happened next. I know that I jumped into the pool. I wanted to get the disgust off me. If I was just a hoe now, I could at least be a clean one. I know that eventually my parents picked me up and that when I wandered into the house, I told my mother that I needed to go back to see my therapist. I know that I was going to be leaving for Florida in two days so I was supposed to stay in that night to spend time with my family.

My best friend, Melinda, was not there when the events transpired, but she heard about them and she and her mother came to the house to get to the bottom of it. Melinda’s mother told mine that Melinda had just been dumped by a boyfriend and really needed her best friend, so I piled into the car and went to Melinda’s house.

Eventually, the story of what had happened came out. Melinda’s mother said to me, “Maria, you know that you were raped, right?” I was shocked. There was no way I had been the victim of such a crime. I honestly just thought I had engaged in sex that I didn’t want to have, sex that made me feel dirty and worthless, but not sex I was FORCED to have. There were no weapons or threats.

I think this is part of the problem in the United States. We don’t teach our girls that rape will most likely be perpetrated by someone that we know. The violent, savage attack by a stranger gets good ratings on TV and in movies and gets a lot of attention on the news, but it is not the typical case. Usually, the rapist thinks you will have sex with him and when you say no, he carries on anyway.

I wish I could say that the horror of my story ended here. But it was far from over.

The next day, Melinda and her mother helped me tell my mother what had happened, and we decided to call the police. A squad car pulled up and a female police officer emerged and asked me what had happened. She then asked me to show her the scene of the crime. The four of us piled into the cop car and rode the couple of miles to the apartment complex where my friend lived. We were able to get into the abandoned apartment easily through the broken back door. I walked up the stairs, irrationally terrified, and showed the officer where the rape had occurred. We found the condom wrapper that Mark had discarded on the ground.

Next, the officer took Melinda and her mother home, and took me and my mother to the hospital to have a rape kit done. For those who are unaware, this means I spent hours (nearly an entire day) in the ER getting blood drawn, giving urine samples, getting shots, getting a pelvic exam, having fifty hairs plucked out of my head at the root, and being questioned again. And again. And again.

During my pelvic exam, the police officer on my case was in the room. There was a “privacy” curtain drawn around my bed and my mother stood beside me and held my hand. The pain was excruciating due to the small tears that can often occur in the vagina when it is penetrated without enough lubrication.

The detective on my case had actually been my DARE officer in elementary school. She was very upset by what had happened and very willing to do everything she could to prosecute the man that did this to me. Unfortunately, she ultimately had to drop my case because her husband was in a very serious motorcycle accident. Without her personal interest in my case, I went to the bottom of the list.

I did end up going to Florida and I was fine until I received a teddy bear that said something like “We care!” in multiple colors and fonts from a family friend. I dissolved into tears. I begged my mother to come and the next day, she and my little sister arrived. There are times in your life when you need your mother. It’s not something that is easy to explain but you know when it happens. In the ensuing weeks, I cooperated with the investigating officers as much as I possibly could. I gave them Larry’s full name and picture, as well as where I thought he lived. I recounted my story over and over again. The cold, detached way that the questions were phrased was excruciating. I was forced to relive the most awful moments of my life alone in a room with a strange grown man. I often felt as though no one at the police department believed me and if they did, they didn’t care.

At one point, an officer came to my home and showed me a line-up of photographs. He also played me a voice recording. The person who the local police thought was responsible for my rape was currently in jail for another sex crime. Mark’s face did not peer out at me from any of the pictures, however, and I couldn’t have remembered his voice if I tried. This was their last attempt at solving my case.

Larry is active on Facebook; we currently have 13 mutual friends. The first time I saw him after my rape, I was in the mall food court with my mother and a friend. My immediate reaction was to jump under the table, hide, and burst into tears. I have since seen him around town a few times but I never let anyone who cared about me know until he was so far away that they couldn’t get into trouble for attacking him.

Remember Melinda? My former best friend? Supposedly, she smoked crack with Larry some time after the events occurred and he tearfully informed her that he thought I would say yes, that he didn’t believe I was a virgin when we had sex, and that he never thought Mark would actually rape me if I said no.

My mother and I went to the Rape Crisis Center on the advice of the initial officer on my case. The volunteer, bless her heart, started the conversation with, “As a victim –“ I interrupted her, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I am not a victim.” I have never been a victim and will never be one. I understand that rape derails the lives of many women and I understand why that is the case. But that’s not me.

Often when prosecutors put rape survivors on the witness stand, the jury is unmoved without some grandiose show of emotion. There is no specific way that a rape survivor “should” act. Each of our experiences is unique and each of us expresses the feelings it has caused in different ways. Most of us would not be willing to share our true feelings in a courtroom filled with strangers about something so personal that it is often difficult to talk about to our closest confidants.

At least in my situation, I found that it was helpful to word vomit as much as humanly possible. I talked about my rape to anyone and everyone who would listen. I still do. Call it attention seeking, hell you may think this essay was written merely to garner sympathy or attention. But if that is the case, you are missing the greater point – that the survivors of rape should not be silenced or shamed when they choose to speak. We have done nothing wrong. If, when, and how we choose to share our story should be our right and ours alone.

I was raped nearly ten years ago. I have no foolish ideas that this essay will affect my long-dead case or the cold hearts of the police department in my hometown. This is not why I have shared my experience with you. I have chosen to tell my story because I am tired of the ignorant statements about rape that even well-meaning people espouse in front of me on a regular basis. I’m tired of the rape jokes, the snide comments, and the overarching idea that somehow a woman is “asking for” rape.

Was I wrong to have sex at the age of fifteen? Was I wrong to lose my virginity to someone random and ultimately awful? Was I wrong to walk by myself, regardless of the fact that it was broad daylight, and I had made this walk on countless occasions for years? Maybe. Am I wrong now that I sometimes go out in skimpy outfits or actually enjoy having sex with someone I have no emotional connection to? Perhaps. Does any of that make me culpable in my own rape? Absolutely not.

I am not scared. I am not ashamed. I will not be silenced. I think it is a cultural imperative for us to understand the experience of being a rape survivor so that it is understood how truly sensitive you must be when discussing this subject.

My name is Maria. I am a daughter, sister, friend, law student, volunteer, and much more. I am also a survivor of rape, and I am not afraid to say so.

I am a rape survivor. NOT a victim, a survivor. This is my story. (Part I)

Maria Moore, Guest Blogger (’16, University of North Carolina School of Law)

My story actually starts several years before I was raped, on March 7, 1997 when I was in third grade. I was called to the principal’s office, and the usual chorus of “OOH!”s that can be expected from a group of third graders accompanied me as I left the classroom. I walked the familiar path to the office of our school disciplinarian, wondering what I had done this time.

It was not the principal who awaited me, however. It was a stranger, who told me she was a detective, and that everything was okay now and that I had nothing to worry about as long as I told the truth. Then she told me that she knew I had been touched in an inappropriate way by a family friend and that as long as I did everything I could to help, I would be safe from that ever happening again.

My parents were not present. A lawyer was not present. The principal was not present. It was just me, the detective, and her tape recorder. I was 8 years old. Little did I know that my little sister, age 5, was in another chamber of the catacomb that encompassed the administrative suite of my elementary school. She was being asked the same uncomfortable and odd questions about a family friend we both loved.

The detective proceeded with a line of questioning that included everything from my usual activities with said family friend (let’s call him “Q”), which involved the types of innocent enjoyment a normal grown man can be expected to have with the daughters of two of his closest friends, to my vivid and unusual nightmares. Somehow, these two things were later combined and used against Q in the papers. Later that day, a female police officer picked my sister and me up from our after-school program and brought us home in a squad car. The police had already arrived at my home and discussed the situation with my parents, who allowed entry because the police officer who knocked on the door said simply, “Your children have been hurt.”

When we walked in, my mother called us to her room and asked whether there was any truth to the allegation that Q had ever touched either of us in a sexual way. The answer was a resounding “no.” When we emerged from the room, a man I did not recognize proceeded to scream at my mother for allegedly “yelling at us” and “telling us what to say.” This upset me and my sister greatly. Never once during the harrowing 6-month investigation was any evidence uncovered that Q had indeed abused us. We went through family therapy, individual therapy, physical examinations (this being a euphemism for having cameras and fingers shoved in our vaginas and anuses), repeated visits from a social worker and various police officers, and countless questions.

This man did not abuse us. This was an innocent man who ran afoul of some of his co-workers and whose life was destroyed because of it. He was described in the paper and on the news as a Satanist and a child molester. He, along with unnamed others (including my parents), were supposedly part of a group engaging in Satanic ritual child abuse.   I believe the lead detective on the case wanted to make a name for herself with one or more convictions.

Despite the overwhelming lack of evidence, my parents were warned that my sister and I could be taken from them and that we were not to leave town. Q was forced to serve 30 days in jail on a trumped-up pornography charge for the heinous crime of having obscene pictures of an adult ex-girlfriend in his attic. He has never set foot in the state of North Carolina since he got out of jail, with one exception – my wedding day. This is a man who loved two little girls in every sweet way that an adult man can. His absence from our lives is deeply felt and incredibly unfair.

One good thing, if you can possibly stretch the meaning of “good” that exceedingly far, is that Q’s lawyer was able to keep his name off of the sex offender registry. Yes, you read that right. No evidence of any wrongdoing was ever found, yet the prosecutor was still aiming to put the name of an innocent man on a list that would act as a scarlet letter branded on his chest for the rest of his life. For no reason.

During the time that our local police department actively and tirelessly wasted taxpayer money pursuing this entirely meritless case, there were undoubtedly  an innumerable amount of girls and women actually being sexually abused and assaulted, women whose attackers were less visible and whose stories were less striking, and who therefore garnered significantly less attention (read: none.)

I know this because I was eventually one of those girls.

Sterilization Abuse Isn’t a Relic of the Past

Candace Gibson, Resident Blogger (’12, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law)

As many scholars have noted, laws that were passed to involuntarily sterilize those who were poor, those with disabilities, those institutionalized, and those deemed “sexually promiscuous” and others during the beginning of the century also impacted women of color.

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt began to fear “race suicide” or that “Yankee ‘stock’ …. would be overwhelmed, numerically and hence politically, by immigrants, nonwhites, and the poor.”

Latinas were impacted on the continental United States as well as in Puerto Rico during the first half of the twentieth century. U.S. policy promoted permanent sterilization in Puerto Rico through door to door visits by health workers, financial subsidies, and employers favoring sterilized women in the hiring process.

Things hadn’t changed much by the seventies.  In Madrigal v. Quilligan, it came to light that medical practitioners at Los Angeles County Medical Center coerced low-income, immigrant women into sterilization within hours of giving birth.  One plaintiff, Maria Hurtado, described her situation: “I was told through a Spanish-speaking nurse, that the state of California did not permit a woman to undergo more than three caesarean section operations, and since this was my third, the doctor would have to do something to prevent me from having another caesarean operation.  They did not explain or describe the tubal ligation, and it was later performed on me without my knowledge or consent.” When the case was decided in 1978, the judge ruled that the practitioners had acted in good faith and without intent to harm.

Latinas in California’s mental health facilities were also subjected to sterilization abuse because they were labeled feeble-minded or because their parents could not support them or for other arbitrary reasons.  However, these women shared similar characteristics: they were of Mexican origin, they had little access to education, and their families migrated back and forth to the United States. This story of abuse started in 1909 and lasted until 1979.

To this day, advocates are hearing stories of abuse and coercion when women are in the hands of the state for their care.

During this past summer, it was reported that 132 women incarcerated in the California prison system were forcibly sterilized between 2006 to 2010.  As you can imagine, many of the women were women of color.  In 2010, Latinas and African-American women made up 59% of the California prison system and these numbers are indicative of the national trend of low income women and women of color serving time in prison for non-violent offenses.  The providers who sterilized these women assumed that these women were repeat offenders or believed these women should no longer parent because they had multiple children.  Many of the women went in for various reproductive health care needs and were misled to believe that sterilization was their only option for treatment.  It is disappointing that these women were deemed to have no dignity or autonomy by their providers. It is more distressing that the mainstream reproductive rights movement has forgotten about these women even though correctional institutions are the second largest provider of reproductive health services in this country.

The situation of these women and their families reminds us that we are a long way off from the right to parent and the social supports needed to actualize this right for many persons in this country.

Anniversary Reminds Us Not To Turn Back

S J Chapman, Resident Blogger, (’12, Northwestern University Law School)

To mark the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Center for Reproductive Rights is producing a series of PSAs urging Americans to stand up for reproductive rights.

The latest features Tony and Grammy Award winner Dee Dee Bridgewater, sharing the harrowing account of her 1968 pre-Roe abortion.  I was struck by the candor and poignancy of Dee Dee’s story, which epitomized the lack of dignity that accompanies government restrictions on abortion: “I remember being very humiliated… to the point that today I haven’t thought about this for years; thinking about it makes me want to cry.”

The PSA encourages people to take a stand against governmental intrusion into reproductive decisions.  As Dee Dee asserts, “I don’t think its right that our politicians can choose for women what their reproductive choices are … you are the one who should decide what you will do with your body.”

I urge everyone to take a few minutes to watch Dee Dee’s video.

Once you’ve seen Dee Dee’s story, you might also want to see the first PSA in the series by reproductive rights advocate Mark Ruffalo, who shares the story of his mother’s pre-Roe abortion experience.  It shocked him to learn that to get an abortion, women had to “search out doctors at night, miles and miles and miles away from their home, in a closed-down doctors office or motel room.”  He concluded by saying “I can’t stand aside with two beautiful young girls of my own and accept that we are going to return to those days.”

Let’s follow Dee Dee and Mark’s examples by working together to ensure our reproductive choices are ours, not the government’s.

18.7 percent is not enough

Deodonne Bhattarai, Resident Blogger (’12, Northeastern University School of Law)

This month marks the start of the second session of the 113th Congress — the most diverse Congress in U.S. history.   My own home state of New Hampshire played a big role in this distinction having sent the only ever all female delegation to Washington, D.C.  Hawaii is a close second, having sent three women as part of its four-member delegation. However, with eighty-one House members and twenty Senators, women still account for only 18.7% of Congressional members.[1]

Despite their comparatively low numbers, women have increasingly gained recognition for their leadership on a variety of issues.  Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kelley Ayotte (R-NH) and others garnered attention for their role in last year’s budget negotiations and are largely credited for saving our country from the dreaded fiscal cliff.  Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) became the voice for family unity and women’s equality during the immigration debate introducing a number of amendments including one to allocate 30,000 residency cards for traditionally female employment, employment that goes largely unrecognized in our current system.

The Shaheen amendment, passed late in 2012, and named for Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), ended the decades long ban on insurance coverage for abortion services for military rape survivors. The attention to sexual violence in the military has only grown over the past year thanks to the efforts of Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO).  Although not always in agreement – only eighteen of the twenty female Senators are pro-choice – the women serving in Congress are a force in their own right.  A recent study found that regardless of their party, women are “thirty-one percent more effective than men at advancing legislation.”

As we embark on the second session of this historic Congress, it is tempered by the fact that half of all states have never elected a woman to the Senate and in the words of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), “Imagine what they could do if there were 50 of them.”



[1] https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42964.pdf

It’s a “Football Thing”

Melissa Torres-Montoya, Resident Blogger (’11, University of California, Berkeley School of Law)

When a prosecutor announced in early December that now 2013 Hiesman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, would not be charged with rape, his attorney took to Huffngton Post and described Winston and other athletes as “targets” for rape accusations.  Specifically, attorney Tim Jansen said,

“If anybody that knows this young man – he’s poised, polite, he’s the nicest young man and I believe he was targeted. These athletes are targeted by these young women. And if they don’t get what they want, or they expect more, a lot of times you see in these, date rape things, maybe they’re embarrassed, maybe they regret it, maybe he didn’t call her, it’s not the first time I’ve had a case like this with an athlete.”

The best defense is a good offense.  And here, Jansen, attempts to create a narrative that obscures the more prevalent issues that our society faces with rape, binge drinking, and sports culture.  I am not contesting that false rape accusations may occur and that such false accusations are problematic because they diminish the credibility of rape victims, I am arguing that the bigger issue here is not that athletes are targeted but that far more rapes occur then are reported or prosecuted.  That the day the charges were dropped, the media blasted out his attorney’s response to this instance of rape as male athletes at large being “targeted,” loses sight of how only 40% of rape gets reported to law enforcement, only 37% of reported cases are prosecuted, and only 18% of these cases end in a conviction.  These statistics indicate that rather than there being an epidemic of targeting men with false accusations, instead perpetrators of rape are often unlikely to face legal consequences for their actions

Moreover, if we are discussing targeting, I would argue that on college campuses it’s more common that inebriated young women are targeted for sexual intercourse — consensual or otherwise.  The culture of binge drinking leads to situations where one or even both parties of a sexual encounter lacked agency creating a problematic murkiness regarding consent of the encounter.  This case is no exception, whether or not Winston is guilty or innocent of rape, it is clear that drinking was involved and clouded the perceptions of the events of the night by all involved.   Facts also point to some seriously troubling sexual norms for those athletes – Winston’s teammate described going in and out of the room where Winston was having sex with the accuser to also have sex with her, citing such behavior as a “football thing” because she was acting like a “groupie type.”

In short, rather than spotlighting comments about athletes being “targeted” by rape allegations because a girl didn’t get a call back, the media should be exploring how we have a long way to go as a society so that all victims of rape can come forward and report this crime and sparking conversations about how problematic binge drinking and sports culture perpetuates this very critical issue.

The Rape Apologist

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

As a TA for a criminal law class this past semester, I witnessed some pretty scary comments about sexual assault from law students.  Those comments were the inspiration behind this post.

A “rape apologist” is someone who sympathizes with the rapist (The onion has summarized this affliction oh-so-well.)  Here’s how to identify and treat the symptoms of such a person:

  1. The raised eyebrow at the mention of rape. Treatment: pretend you were talking about rate…s of inflation in this country. Get out while you still can!
  2. Outlining his perfect rape apology scenario: “So things are getting hot and heavy between a girl and a guy. She decides she’s not into it, but she just lies there, and doesn’t say anything. And the guy still thinks it’s great, so he keeps going. How can you blame him when she doesn’t say anything?” Treatment: “Does that sound like good sex to any reasonable human being? You make sure your partner is properly lying like a frozen, dead fish, you don’t speak, and you just continue? LADIES: GET IN LINE, THIS GUY JUST CONTINUES.”
  3. The proper allocation of blame: “The ‘victim’ [read: air quotes] needs to ask what she was doing to cause her rape.” Treatment: “Sir, I believe you are speaking to personal responsibility. You know what’s a good barometer for personal responsibility? Simply asking your partner, ‘is this ok?’
  4. “Science” that conveniently apologizes for rape: “Besides, science says that men are biologically predisposed to commit rape. So, come on: science…” Treatment: “I believe you are referring to Thornhill and Palmer’s A Natural History of Rape, which can be summarized as: ‘male scorpionflies seem to rape, therefore male humans obviously need to rape.’ You should read Besteman and Gusterson’s book, Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong. They are leading anthropologists who de-bunk biological determinism. But I understand if you’re too busy reading… Reddit…?”

If you or someone you know suffers from rape apology, there is still hope. Call that person out on it today!

Channeling Human Trafficking Survivors

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

New York announced that it will be among the first to create specialized courts for human trafficking and prostitution.  This move is indeed a step in the right direction.  Human trafficking has achieved celebrity status in human rights reform – likely because there aren’t many sympathetic defenses to “modern slavery” (e.g.,“Oh, whoops, I just forgot to pay my cleaning lady while I kept her in my basement for the past eight years” doesn’t fly too well in federal court).

However, the path to justice for victims of sex trafficking is complex.  We know (as The West Wing aptly noted) that no little girl says, “I want to be a prostitute when I grow up.”  And yet, the way the criminal justice system treats prostitutes would lead anyone to improperly deduce this motive.  This inference is so strong that it trickles into punishing children who are forced into sexual exploitation for money (most or all of which they don’t get).  Somehow, states find no problem in punishing children for prostitution, while contemporaneously declaring their inability to consent to sex (in statutory rape), their inability to enter into a contract (in contracts), and their inability to work (in child labor).

Proving that human trafficking is afoot requires “force, fraud, or coercion” – this burden does not seem high, but in practicality can be insurmountable.  “Pimps” use a grooming process (like that of pedophiles) for both children and women.  This tactic can even lead to victims defending their trafficker.  Despite New York’s laudable step, the trafficking courts will continue processing prostitutes through the criminal system (aka prosecuting them). Courts would do well to remind themselves, in considering “force,” that girls grow up wanting to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc., rather than an object of commercial sexual exploitation.

Coerced Sterilization – Asserting Power over Female Bodies

Mangala Kanayson, LSRJ Summer Intern (’15, Emory University School of Law)

Forced sterilization has a sordid history in California. Before a state ban was enacted in 1979, single characteristics (such as poverty, mental illness, or being in prison) meant people were systematically deemed unfit to procreate and punished for existing by having their choice to exercise autonomy over their health and bodies removed.

The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) recently released a report on the illegal sterilization of incarcerated women that lifted the curtain and exposed to us the dark reality; that despite moralizing about equality, people still do not perceive incarcerated women as deserving to mother children and that even those charged with protecting the health and well-being of women can forcibly assert authority over female bodies and feel that they have done nothing wrong.

CIR’s recent report on the illegal sterilization of female prisoners is too heavy of a weight to dismiss as the poor judgment of a few or as the unfortunate quest of a misguided doctor.

Pressuring a woman into being sterilized during childbirth is more than an assertion of power over her body. It is a value judgment that strips away her right to be and her right to choose when and how to parent her children. In the context of our sexist, classist, racist society, it is also an action steeped in a history of oppression and injustice.

Kahlil Gibran in his 1923 poem The Prophet, wrote that “the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.”  Perhaps he was right. Could doctors have so violated the rights, dignity, and personhood of these women outside the context of a sexist culture that regulates/legislates women’s bodies and reproductive autonomy as a matter of course? Would officials have allowed and participated in the coercion of women so obviously under duress outside of a culture that objectifies women and relegates them to caricatures instead of people?

The online rhetoric surrounding CIR’s controversial report is overwhelmingly in favor of forced sterilization. This suggests that vulnerable populations, particularly female prisoners, are not yet deemed “fit to live among us.” This report must convince us that women’s rights are still overwhelmingly unattained, and must force us to vehemently and unfailingly rebuke the idea that anyone can be viewed or treated as less than human.

Kermit Gosnell and the Case for Abortion Rights

Andrea Frey, LSRJ Summer Intern (’15, University of Washington School of Law)

Anti-choice activists point to Kermit Gosnell, the illegal abortion provider of late-term abortions whose murder trial made national news, as evidence that abortion is an inherently violent, bloody, and unsafe procedure. They are invoking his name and his horrific crimes against vulnerable women as reason why abortion services should be banned altogether. In reality however, what makes the Gosnell case so striking is precisely because it is such an outlier in the post-Roe US today. Indeed, abortion is now safer than ever before with fewer than 1% of all US abortion patients experience major complications.

The idea that because Roe has not entirely eliminated unethical practitioners, we should retreat back to the era in which women were compelled to seek abortion in back alleys is utterly absurd. Indeed, the Gosnell case foreshadows the plight that many women could face if abortion continues to be driven underground with more restrictive laws. We are inching closer to that reality, with abortion restrictions and regulations of clinics (TRAP measures) dominating state legislators’ agendas. It will be near impossible for many American women – particularly low-income, women of color – to access safe, affordable and legal abortions. This in turn will drive women to put their lives at risk, including underground clinics like Gosnell’s.

The coat hanger may be the infamous symbol of illegal abortion forty years ago, but in no way is it a myth. Before abortion was decriminalized in 1973 in the US, thousands of women died as a result of unsafe abortions. From coat hangers to soda bottles, desperate women would take their chances on ending the pregnancy themselves or with the help of underground providers. These were the days before Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that a woman has a right to safe, legal abortions in the first trimester from medical professionals. The thought of returning to those days seems beyond imagination but is a distinctly possible reality if the crusade against abortion continues. While there is no doubt that Gosnell committed horrible crimes, assuming that all abortion providers offer unsafe care as reason for tightening regulations is off-base and does not ensure women’s safety.