The Roots of Resistance: The Social Justice Context of Sexual Harassment Law

wga_posterEarlier this year, Scandal star Kerry Washington brought sexual harassment into the spotlight with her portrayal of the embattled Anita Hill in HBO’s Confirmation. The movie dramatizes how Hill herself made sexual harassment a topic of high-profile, nationwide debate when she came forward to speak out against Clarence Thomas during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Hill’s testimony gave resolve to others who had experienced similar treatment in the workplace, ushering in a 40-percent increase in the number of sexual harassment claims filed with state and federal agencies in 1991 and 1992. But as inspiring as her testimony was, Hill stood on the shoulders of brave women before her who confronted sexual harassment and helped advance a body of law that makes workplaces, schools, and other institutions safer spaces. That body of law now protects people against “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature,” as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission summarizes.


The fight against sexual harassment is closely connected to the long struggle for freedom among African Americans.


The breakthrough cases in sexual harassment law provide a revealing look at the short and surprising history of the battles, both in and out of court, that brought the issue into public consciousness. It is a history that shatters popular perceptions of feminism’s second wave and brings to light an overlooked dimension of another fight for social justice: the Civil Rights Movement.

Two Landmark Legal Decisions

When Mechelle Vinson applied for a job at Capital City Federal Savings in 1974, she was only 19 years old, but she had already had part-time jobs at several businesses around Washington, D.C., including a shoe store and an exercise club. For Vinson, lessons in supporting herself had come early. A strained relationship with her father had led her to drop out of high school and make repeated attempts to run away from home. She got married at “14 or 15,” because, as she recounted later, “I thought if I get married, I don’t have to go through problems with my father.” Continue reading

April Is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month

A Planned Parenthood Arizona supporter shared her story of sexual assault with us in observance of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

AllSexWantedSexI had never had a boyfriend before and it was flattering to have someone dote on me and give me all of his attention. And he was a wonderful friend. We could talk to one another for hours, especially about music and art. Was I attracted to him? Not really, but did I need to be? He was someone to hang around with; a kindred spirit. College was my first priority. But, after a couple of months of friendship, he was insistent on more. I held him off for a few weeks, but he was not leaving the topic alone.

“I love you. Don’t you love me? If you love me, then sex is the next step. It is the ultimate connection.” Continue reading

Book Club: Missoula – Rape and the Justice System in a College Town

MissoulaGuided by his own experience as a mountaineer, Jon Krakauer first made a name for himself with a handful of books about risk-taking athletes and adventurers: Eiger Dreams, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air. A blurb inside the last edition of Where Men Win Glory, his book about Arizona’s own Pat Tillman, aptly described him as “at home when it comes to writing about elusive alpha males.”

Krakauer’s latest book is a dramatic departure from that vein of writing, a study not of a lone wolf facing the elements but of a whole community facing its own controversies. Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (Doubleday, 2015) is Krakauer’s investigation of a spate of rape allegations that shook the University of Montana and the town of Missoula from 2010 to 2012.


Missoula resulted from the author’s quest to become more informed about a crime that is both common and swept under the carpet.


Many of the assaults during that time involved members of UM’s Grizzly football team. As a consequence, the victims who came forward faced not only the normal challenges of pressing charges, such as revisiting their traumas in front of police and courts, but also the anger of local football fans who were convinced of their star players’ innocence. The fierce loyalty of the Grizzlies’ supporters, it seemed, fueled a greater sense of entitlement than accountability among team members.

As the story developed, Krakauer explains, Missoula entered the national spotlight in the pages of major newspapers like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, but it was a viral article on the website Jezebel, “My Weekend in America’s So-Called ‘Rape Capital,'” that captured the town’s newfound notoriety in an epithet that Missoula couldn’t shake. Continue reading

Political Posturing: The Federal 20-Week Abortion Ban

U.S. Representative Trent Franks (R-Arizona) of the 8th congressional district speaking at the Arizona Republican Party 2014 election victory party at the Hyatt Regency in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: Gage Skidmore

U.S. Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona’s 8th congressional district speaking at the Arizona Republican Party 2014 election victory party in Phoenix. Photo: Gage Skidmore

The idea of a 20-week abortion ban is nothing new for the Grand Canyon State. In 2012, the Arizona Legislature enacted a law prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks, except in cases of narrowly defined medical emergencies. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously struck down the law under clear Supreme Court precedent, and the high court itself later declined to hear Arizona’s appeal.

Even though the Supreme Court refused to uphold Arizona’s initial 20-week ban, the issue remained a central policy concern for Arizona politicians. In June 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. The bill, sponsored by Arizona’s own Rep. Trent Franks, never reached the floor of the Democrat-controlled Senate.


Almost all late-term abortions are due to a life-threatening condition or severe fetal abnormalities.


Yet, despite the outright failure of Arizona politicians to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks, either here in Arizona or at the federal level, they’re back at it again. This year, Rep. Franks successfully spearheaded a bill nearly identical to the one he introduced two years ago. Approved by the House earlier this month, H.R. 36 would severely restrict access to abortion services in the fifth month of pregnancy.

Notably, even Franks’ most recent attack on women’s reproductive rights did not pass the House without controversy; the current edition of H.R. 36 is actually the revised version of a bill introduced in January. A handful of Republicans objected to the original draft because it mandated that women who suffered rape or incest must report all crimes to law enforcement before being eligible to receive a late-term abortion. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • teddy bearImagine being 10 years old and pregnant as a result of rape by your stepfather. Imagine being forced to carry that pregnancy to term and give birth — all because your government says so. This is what’s happening to a child in Paraguay. It’d be remiss of me not to mention the fact that pregnancy can be extremely hazardous to this child’s health and can endanger her future fertility, and that girls under the age of 15 are FIVE times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than those over age 20. Again, this child is 10. (Think Progress)
  • Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton says (correctly) that the religious zealots who don’t believe in abortion are infringing upon the rights of the rest of us. (Jezebel)
  • In contrast, two of the candidates from the Republican side, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, want support allowing employers to fire their employees based on birth control usage, terminating a pregnancy, and other private decisions that have have less than nothing to do with an employee’s job performance. (MSNBC)
  • Meanwhile, Oklahoma has become the fourth state to enact a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions. Gov. Mary Fallin said, “This legislation will help women get the information they need before making a decision they can’t take back.” Um, don’t they already have the information??? That they’re pregnant and no longer wish to be???!! (WaPo)
  • A prolific chlamydia outbreak at a Texas high school that only teaches abstinence? Who would’ve ever thunk it? (Slate XX Factor)
  • Dr. Keith Ablow, a medical blowhard of the Republican persuasion who practically lives on Fox News, thinks men should be able to “veto” a woman’s abortion. Because why should the final decision on that belong to a woman? It’s not like pregnancy is in any way “risky” or could have life-long effects on her health or life in general. He hates that women have “all the control” … over what happens with their bodies and health and lives and all that petty nonsense. Boo friggity hoo. I’ll tell ya what, Ablow, the day an embryo can be transferred from a woman’s body to a man’s to carry to term, I’ll be on board with men having a say. Mmmkay? (Raw Story)
  • Dr. Ablow’s commentary was mostly in reference to the shenanigans of Nick Loeb, the ex-fiance of Modern Family actress Sofia Vergara, and the brouhaha over frozen embryos created during their relationship. Sofia is not interested in those embryos becoming people since she broke up with Nick, so Nick went on an epic faux pro-life shaming rant/tantrum that disgusted most people with any common sense or critical thinking skills. (RH Reality Check)
  • One writer illustrates why it’s important to be pro-abortion in addition to being pro-choice. (Salon)

ACT TODAY! SB 1318 Is on the HOUSE FLOOR TODAY!

The Trouble with SB 1318

BREAKING: FACT-CHECK on 1318

fact check thumbnailSB 1318 passed the Arizona House Rules committee this afternoon and is headed to the House floor later this week — NOW IS THE TIME to STOP 1318. SB 1318 is too extreme and relies on illegitimate science to prop up an extreme and messy bill. #STOP1318 and contact your 2 Representatives and ask they vote NO when it gets to the floor.

  1. No taxpayer money is used in Arizona to fund abortion. NONE. No taxpayer funds are used at the federal level either since laws exist explicitly averting public funds for paying for abortion. Proponents claim to protect the taxpayer from erroneously paying for an abortion — instead Arizona taxpayers will be on the hook not only for court cases and lawyer fees, but for numerous medical malpractice suits for compelling doctors to misinform patients. SB 1318 is a bad bill.
  1. SB 1318 does NOT redact doctors’ private information from public documents when doctors lawfully comply with ADHS regulations. Under public records laws, doctors’ private information is made public. Doctors should NOT be targeted simply because of the care they provide and SB 1318 targets doctors, plain and simple.
  1. Complete with an amendment that compels doctors to “inform” patients that their medical abortion may be reversed if they change their mind, but SB 1318 relies on illegitimate science. Although medically unsubstantiated, Arizona providers will now be forced by the state to potentially commit medical malpractice by having to misinform patients.
  1. While SB 1318 does have an exception for survivors of rape and incest, the bill does not outline how doctors or insurance adjusters go about determining if an individual was in fact a victim of such a crime. The vagueness of the bill forces doctors and insurance companies to be de facto police detectives to determine if a pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. This is too extreme — even in Arizona.

SB 1318 targets doctors for the care they provide, relies on illegitimate science, and is too extreme. #STOP1318 and contact your 2 Representatives and ask they vote NO when it gets to the floor.

The Peace Corps Equity Act: A Step Forward in Expanding Abortion Access

Peace Corps AfricaLast month, President Obama signed into law the new budget for 2015, which includes coverage for Peace Corps volunteers who need abortions in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. Why is this news item a big deal? Because 63 percent of Peace Corps volunteers are women, a first-trimester abortion costs more than a Peace Corps volunteer makes in a month, and sexual assault is a risk for Peace Corps volunteers. Of course, abortion and sexual assault are difficult subjects, and when you put them both together and remind the public that, until now, Peace Corps volunteers who became pregnant as a result of sexual assault while on the job were subjected to undue financial burdens on top of everything else, you might see a lot of criticism of the Peace Corps. And, for returned Peace Corps volunteers, that criticism might sting.


The Peace Corps Equity Act represents an important step forward.


As a returned Peace Corps volunteer, I have a hard time writing this piece. I feel like I am airing our dirty laundry.

In my experience, most people are unfamiliar with the Peace Corps. And when all that makes the news is that the Peace Corps “fails” its female volunteers with respect to abortion and sexual assault, it’s hard for those of us who know and love the Peace Corps to talk openly about these issues.

The Peace Corps, however, has failed no one — they have had their hands tied by rules put into place decades ago by our government. The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of U.S. funds to pay for foreign abortions, including those of Peace Corps volunteers. The first time I ever heard about it was during training, when we were told that it meant we could not discuss abortion with locals or counsel around abortion as an option. Continue reading