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“Small Towns Have Their Darkside Too”: Maryville, Missouri Is A Lawless Hellhole

Earlier this week, the New Republic’s Michael Schaffer published an immensely satisfying smackdown of the frustrating double standard the media tends to invoke when it comes to reporting about small towns. Culture war rules have firmly established that it’s fine for “real Americans” to slander cities as ungodly, anti-American dens of crime and iniquity.

Yet it’s all but compulsory for reporters writing about small town life to glop on the pious cliches about the honest, pure-hearted folk who allegedly populate these places, with their supposedly unwavering fidelity to family values, tradition, and the simpler things in life. These sepia-toned journalistic portraits of small-town life can be so treacly they run the risk of sending you into a diabetic coma.

But in reality, small towns are no simpler than anywhere else. And as anyone who grew up in such a place can tell you, small towns have their dark side. They can be vicious, bigoted, hateful places, and every bit as corrupt as cities. There’s a reason why Shirley Jackson set her chilling short story “The Lottery” in a small town. The town in the story was based on the place she was living in at the time; she and her family experienced ugly acts of ostracism and anti-Semitism there.

Thus we come to Maryville, Missouri, site of a now-infamous rape case, and various journalists’ not terribly persuasive attempts to whitewash the place, most notably the New York Times. But all the air freshener in the world can’t perfume the overpowering stench which practically wafts off my computer screen every time I read about the godforsaken place. As Schaffer usefully points out:

There are two ways the town could have lived up to the Times’ rose-colored description of its status quo ante:

1. Beforehand, by not sexually assaulting ninth-graders, videotaping the incident, and leaving a victim asleep on her front lawn in freezing weather.

2. After the fact, by not ostracizing the victim’s siblings, firing her mom from her job, dropping the case inexplicably, and burning the family’s house down.

Schaffer goes on to argue, persuasively, that both of the above scenarios are actually more likely, not less so, in a small town than in a more densely populated urban area. Among other things, there’s the problem of the quasi-feudalistic nature of rural life:

Turns out all that “close knit” small-town stuff turns out to kind of suck if you’re trying to get justice: When you’re so close-knit that your boss knows some of the families whose kids you’re trying to put in jail, and you just happen to get fired—that’s not a good thing.

The anonymity of city life comes with its own troubles, of course, including high crime rates. I wouldn’t want, or expect, journalists to gloss over these well-known problems. Why, then, is it okay for them to create absurdly idealized portraits of small-town life? Especially when, as is the case with Maryville, such portraits sugarcoat horrendous and widespread anti-social behavior and what appears to be a systematic attempt at obstruction of justice?

 

By: Kathleen Geier, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 26, 2013

November 4, 2013 Posted by | Bigotry, Sex Abuse | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Failing Young Rape Victims”: Children Are Children And Acting Older Doesn’t Make Them Older

Last year, a defense attorney called an 11 year-old gang rape victim a “spider” luring men into her web. When The New York Times covered the case, they reported she “dressed older than her age,” wore make up and hung out with teenage boys. It wasn’t a new framing; when young girls are raped – especially young girls of color – they’re frequently blamed for “enticing” adult men or painted as complicit in the attack because of their supposed sexual maturity. From the criminal justice system that re-traumatizes assault victims to a media that calls rape cases “sex scandals” or insists statutory rape isn’t ‘rape rape’, we are failing young sexual assault survivors every day.

One young woman we have failed is Cherice Moralez. When Moralez was 14, she was raped by her 49 year old teacher. She killed herself a few weeks before her 17th birthday. Last week, a Montana judge sentenced Stacey Dean Rambold – who admitted raping Moralez – to just 30 days in jail. Judge G. Todd Baugh said Moralez was “older than her chronological age,” and was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist. Baugh also said the assault “wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.”

While state prosecutors are seeking to appeal the sentence and the case has generated justifiable outrage, some believe the 30 days was too much. Former lawyer Betsy Karasik, for example, used the case as an example to argue for the decriminalization of student-teacher “relationships” in The Washington Post. Karasik insisted that no one she knew who had sex with teachers was “horribly damaged” and that “many teenagers are, biologically speaking, sexually mature.”

But biological maturity or “acting” mature is not the same thing as being an adult. Roxane Gay writes, “People often want to ‘complicate’ the statutory rape conversation by talking about the sexual empowerment of adolescents and this and that. These exercises in intellectual masturbation are pointless.”

“I was a teenager, we were all teenagers and we all felt empowered in our youthful seductions. We maybe were and we probably weren’t. We like to tell ourselves we know exactly what we’re doing, even when we don’t.”

When I was a sophmore in high school, my social studies teacher – who was in his 60s or 70s – asked me to come to the board because “everyone wants to see how you look in that shirt.” I stopped going to class, too ashamed to return. Before the semester ended, the teacher cornered me in the hallway and told me if I gave him a hug, he would give me a 95 in the class. I did it.

At the time, I laughed with my friends about the “pervy teacher who gave me an awesome grade.” I reacted the same way when I was 17 and a man in his 30s who had been my teacher since I was 13 years old, called my home the week I graduated to ask me out. Because that’s what teens do – deflect pain with humor.

I thought my blasé reaction made me mature, but the truth is that it epitomized my immaturity – a testament to the fact that I didn’t know how to handle unwanted advances of much older men.

Teenagers can act unhurt over sexual harassment and abuse for all sorts of reasons, including trying to reclaiming agency from an abusive situation. That does not mean what is happening is not abuse, or rape, or assault. And no matter how grown teens act, it’s the responsibility of teachers and adults to remind us that we’re not adults, not to lasciviously bolster a myth that says otherwise or worsen it with blame.

Sexualization of young girls is not just something that happens as part of abuse, it’s something that’s part of their everyday lives. A report from the American Psychological Association shows that even the personal relationships girls have with peers, parents and teachers can contribute to this sexualization through daily interactions:

Parents may contribute to sexualization in a number of ways. For example, parents may convey the message that maintaining an attractive physical appearance is the most important goal for girls. Some may allow or encourage plastic surgery to help girls meet that goal. Research shows that teachers sometimes encourage girls to play at being sexualized adult women or hold beliefs that girls of color are “hypersexual” and thus unlikely to achieve academic success.

For girls like Moralez – who are depicted as “troubled” or deserving of the abuse done to them because of racism and their perceived sexuality – the consequences are acute. One study, for example, showed that Latina girls are likely to stop attending school activities in order to avoid sexual harassment – a survival technique that is more likely to result in a label of deliquency than victimhood.

Cherice Moralez deserves more justice than 30 days. She deserves more humanity than being fodder for an intellectual argument that supports rape. And no matter what she looked like or acted like, she was a child.

As Cherice’s mother Auliea Hanlon told CNN, “How could she be in control of the situation? He was a teacher. She was a student. She wasn’t in control of anything. She was 14.” Cherice was described as “gifted” by her teachers. She loved poetry. She was 14.

By: Jessica Valenti, The Nation, September 2, 2013

September 3, 2013 Posted by | Sex Abuse | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Penn State’s Scandal, Where Was The Leadership?

Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno said, “I did what I was supposed to.” In fact, nobody at Penn State did what basic human decency requires — and as a result, according to prosecutors, an alleged sexual predator who could have been stopped years ago was allowed to continue molesting young boys.

The arrest Saturday of Jerry Sandusky, the school’s former defensive coordinator, on felony child sex abuse charges, involving at least eight victims, has sent university officials scrambling to justify a pattern of self-serving inattention and inaction.

 

University Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley also face charges — for failing to report what they knew about Sandusky and for allegedly perjuring themselves before a grand jury. Both proclaim their innocence. After an emergency meeting of the university Board of Trustees, it was announced Sunday that the two officials would be stepping away from their jobs.

Penn State President Graham Spanier has said that Schultz and Curley have his “unconditional support.” If he believes the way they acted was right, or even remotely acceptable, then he needs to go, too — as does Paterno, who can only destroy his legacy by hanging on and trying to excuse the inexcusable.

Assuming that even half of what Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly alleges is true, Sandusky is a patient and calculating pedophile who used his insider status with the glamorous Penn State football program to lure boys as young as 10. Sandusky allegedly met his victims through the Second Mile, a charity he founded that provides programs for troubled — and vulnerable — youth.

The investigation that led to the charges was launched in 2009 after the mother of a boy — a Second Mile participant — reported allegations of sexual assault to officials at a high school where Sandusky, now 67, volunteered. But Penn State officials knew at least 11 years earlier that there were disturbing questions about physical contact between Sandusky and young boys.

In 1998, Sandusky was famous in the college football world as the defensive wizard who gave Penn State the nickname “Linebacker U,” and he was often mentioned as Paterno’s likely successor.

That year, the university police department conducted what a grand jury report calls a “lengthy investigation” of allegations that Sandusky had hugged, rubbed against and inappropriately touched two 11-year-old boys while they were naked with him in the showers of a Penn State locker room.

Detectives listened in as the mother of one of the boys called Sandusky to confront him. According to the grand jury report, Sandusky told her: “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”

The local district attorney declined to prosecute, and the investigation was closed. Paterno was Sandusky’s immediate boss, and Curley was Paterno’s. Perhaps all who were involved did, in the narrowest sense, what they were “supposed to.” But imagine how much better it would have been if someone had done the right thing and taken that 1998 incident seriously — better for the victims, but also better for the university’s reputation and ultimately better for Sandusky himself.

It gets much worse: In 2002, after Sandusky had retired — although he still had an office and enjoyed the run of the Penn State athletic facilities — a football team “graduate assistant” saw Sandusky raping a young boy in the showers, according to the grand jury report.

The assistant — widely identified in news reports as Mike McQueary, a former Penn State quarterback who is now the team’s wide receivers coach and top recruiter — told Paterno what he had seen. Paterno told Curley. The assistant was eventually summoned to a meeting with Curley and Schultz at which he says he described the rape in graphic detail.

The two officials claim they were only told about behavior that was “not that serious.” They took it seriously enough, however, to decree that Sandusky could no longer bring Second Mile children into the football building.

But they “never attempted to learn the identity of the child in the shower,” according to the grand jury. “No one from the university did so.”

Unbelievable.

According to the grand jury, the assistant, Paterno, Curley, Schultz and Spanier all knew about the incident. Each covered his own behind. None lifted a finger to find out who the alleged victim was or what had become of him.

Tell us again: How did you do everything you were supposed to do?

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 7, 2011

November 9, 2011 Posted by | Sex Abuse | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Return Of Back-Alley Abortions

Underground abortions have returned to the United States, just as pro-choice activists have warned for years. And women have started going to jail for the crime of ending their own pregnancies, or trying to.

This week Jennie L. McCormack, a 32-year-old mother of three from eastern Idaho, was arrested for self-inducing an abortion. According to the Associated Press, McCormack couldn’t afford a legal procedure, and so took pills that her sister had ordered online. For some reason, she kept the fetus, which police found after they were called by a disapproving acquaintance. She now faces up to five years in prison, as well as a $5,000 fine.

Idaho recently banned abortions after 20 weeks, and McCormack’s fetus was reportedly between five and six months old. But according to Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, under Idaho law, McCormack could have been arrested even if she’d been in her first trimester because self-induced abortion is illegal in all circumstances. “It doesn’t matter if it’s an 8- or 10- or 12-week abortion,” says Kolbi-Molinas. “If you do what you could get lawfully in a doctor’s office—what you have a constitutional right to access in a doctor’s office—they can throw you in jail and make you a convicted felon.”

While horrific, McCormack’s case is not unique. In recent years, several women have been arrested on suspicion of causing their own abortions, or attempting to. Most have come from conservative rural states with few clinics and numerous restrictions on abortion. In America’s urban centers and liberal enclaves, the idea of women being prosecuted for taking desperate measures to end their pregnancies might seem inconceivable, a never-again remnant of the era before Roe v. Wade. In fact, it’s a slowly encroaching reality.

Even more, these cases demonstrate that criminalizing abortion means turning women who have abortions into criminals.

In 2005, Gabriela Flores, a 22-year-old Mexican migrant worker, was arrested in South Carolina. Like McCormack, she had three children and said she couldn’t afford a fourth, and so she turned to clandestinely acquired pills. (The drug she took, Misoprostol, is an ulcer medicine that also works as an abortifacient and is widely used in Latin American countries where abortion is illegal.) Initially facing two years in prison, she ended up being sentenced to 90 days.

In 2009, a 17-year-old Utah girl known in court filings as J.M.S. found herself pregnant by an older man who is now facing charges of using her in child pornography. J.M.S. lived in house without electricity or running water in a remote part of the state, several hours’ drive from the nearest clinic, which was in Salt Lake City. Getting there would have required not just a car—her area had no public transportation—but money for a hotel in order to comply with Utah’s 24-hour-waiting period, as well as for the cost of the abortion itself.

According to prosecutors, when J.M.S. was in her third trimester, she paid a man $150 to beat her in the hopes of inducing a miscarriage. The fetus survived, but she was charged with criminal solicitation to commit murder. When her case was thrown out on the grounds that her actions weren’t illegal under the state’s definition of abortion, legislators changed the law so they would be able to punish women like her in the future.

Meanwhile, prosecutors have appealed J.M.S.’ case to the Supreme Court, and observers expect it to rule against her. She could still face a trial and prison time.

A woman doesn’t even have to be trying to abort to find herself under arrest. Last year, a pregnant 22-year-old in Iowa named Christine Taylor ended up in the hospital after falling down a flight of stairs. A mother of two, she told a nurse she’d tripped after an upsetting phone conversation with her estranged husband. Though she’d gone to the hospital to make sure her fetus was OK, she confessed that she’d been ambivalent about the pregnancy and unsure whether she was ready to become a single mother of three.

Suspecting Taylor had hurled herself down the stairs on purpose, the nurse called a doctor, and at some point the police were brought in. Taylor was arrested on charges of attempted feticide. She spent two days in jail before the charges were dropped because she was in her second trimester, and Iowa’s feticide laws don’t kick in until the third.

These cases are a harbinger of what’s to come as abortion laws become increasingly strict and abortion clinics harder to access in the more conservative parts of the country. They demonstrate the lengths to which women will go to end unwanted pregnancies. But even more, they demonstrate that criminalizing abortion means turning women who have abortions into criminals.

The antiabortion movement likes to see itself as pro-woman. Most of its spokespeople talk about protecting women from abortion, insisting they’re not interested in seeing them punished. “It’s tragic that this young woman felt that this was her only way out,” National Right to Life President Carol Tobias said in a statement in response to questions about the McCormack case. “The pro-life movement has never supported jail sentences for women who are victims of the abortion culture and abortion industry.”

Tobias said her group calls on Idaho officials “to engage in more publicity about the network of pregnancy resource centers and about the existence of Idaho’s safe haven law—either of which would have helped this young mother and saved her child.” But she didn’t call on them to release McCormack or to change the laws under which she’s being charged. If these sorts of prosecutions aren’t what the antiabortion movement had in mind when it pushed wave after wave of state-level legislation, now might be a good time to speak up.

 

By: Michelle Goldberg, Contributing Writer, The Daily Beast, June 3, 2011

 

 

June 5, 2011 Posted by | Abortion, Anti-Choice, Class Warfare, Conservatives, Constitution, Education, Equal Rights, GOP, Government, Governors, Health Care, Human Rights, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Planned Parenthood, Politics, Privacy, Pro-Choice, Public Health, Republicans, Right Wing, Sex Abuse, State Legislatures, States, Uninsured, Women, Women's Health, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Priest’s And Abuse: What Happened to ‘Zero Tolerance’?

A meeting of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops is scheduled for June. It needs to repair the gaping holes uncovered in their “zero tolerance” mandate for priests suspected of sexually abusing children.

A grand jury report in February found that the Philadelphia archdiocese, for all its announced safeguards, allowed 37 suspect priests to remain in parish work. The indictment of a layman and four church figures — including a monsignor accused of covering up abuse — is proof that the bishops’ system of local and national review boards isn’t strong enough.

Board appointees are supposedly equipped to scrutinize each diocese’s adherence to zero tolerance. But the grand jury in Philadelphia found that the hierarchy there continued to protect accused priests despite repeated scandals and vows for reform.

The leader of the Philadelphia review board pointed to one major weakness: currently, any allegations about rogue priests are first vetted by chancery officials working for the archdiocese. They rightly should go directly to the review boards. This should be a universal no-brainer, along with stronger outside auditing of safeguard programs. Both were initially required, but the bishops subsequently eased that to a policy of “self-reporting” with audits every three years.

The haunting question is how many other Philadelphias may be out there.

A church review panel of laypeople formed in 2002 looked beyond zero tolerance for priests and warned that “there must be consequences” for bishops who engineered cover-ups. More than 700 priests had to be dismissed in a three-year period. But there has been nothing close to an accounting of bishops’ culpability in protecting predatory priests and paying hush money to contain complaints. This is a fact for the bishops to ponder at their June meeting alongside the shocking grand jury report.

By: Editorial, The New York Times, April 1, 2011

April 2, 2011 Posted by | Bishops, Catholic Church, Priest's, Religion, Sex Abuse | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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