Protection from Sexual Assault Continues to Fail for the Disabled

When Jennifer’s mother looked at the belly bump of her 27- year old severely developmentally disabled daughter one morning, she thought, “Oh my god.” Jennifer was pregnant.

We can rewind this story several years back when Jennifer, born with severe mental retardation and bipolar disorder, was admitted to the Sonoma Developmental Center in 2002. She resided there almost full time except for weekends when she visited her mother. 

Sonoma Developmental Center

Sonoma Developmental Center

In 2006, Jennifer accused someone of “touching” her. She had bruises on her body, on her chest, on her arms, and even a bite mark, so her mother authorized morning and evening searches of Jennifer’s person to determine when and how these marks were occurring. A police investigation was opened but later shelved. Instead, Jennifer was moved to a single room with an alarm system on the exterior door. Jennifer’s mother assumed she was now safe.

When Jennifer was put on new medication, Jennifer was not allowed to leave the facility for overnight visits because she needed supervision. So she stayed full time at the Center for several months over the winter. Her mother took her home again the following July, and that’s when she noticed something was wrong with her daughter.

Even though Jennifer’s routine pap smear performed by the SDC’s gynecologist in April turned up normal, Jennifer’s mother requested the staff test her again. This time test results showed Jennifer was twenty-six weeks pregnant.  

Police conducted a DNA test of the Center’s staff and also of Jennifer’s family—Jennifer’s mother’s husband and son-in-law—even though it was clear that Jennifer was impregnated during the winter months that she was kept at the Center full time. But it was far too late to gather evidence of sexual assault. One staff member refused to be tested. Another, a janitor, fled to his native Mexico. 

How did Jennifer’s rapist enter her room if the door was alarmed? There was a second door to Jennifer’s room from a shared bathroom connected to an empty neighboring room. Those doors did not have alarms, and anyone could enter or exit freely.

Jennifer’s story is not an isolated case . Investigative reporter Ryan Gabrielson, writing for CaliforniaWatch.org writes that “California’s board-and-care centers for the developmentally disabled have accused caretakers of molestation and rape 36 times during the past four years.” Because Center policy is to have their female patients on birth control in order to regulate their menstrual cycle, it’s near impossible to tell how prevalent rape occurs, especially when the survivors are too incognizant to report or even understand the violations happening to them. Had Jennifer’s mother not requested that her daughter be off birth control, how long would her rapist have continued to assault her, since the SDC had been inept at recognizing a pregnancy never mind a sexual assault? Jennifer, at 27, had the mental capacity of a child younger than five or six-year old.

Ryan Gabrielson writes:

In the three dozen cases of sexual abuse, documents obtained by California Watch reveal that patients suffered molestation, forced oral sex and vaginal lacerations. But for years, the state-run police force has moved so slowly and ineffectively that predators have stayed a step ahead of law enforcement or abused new victims, records show. […]

Investigating sex crimes against this vulnerable population falls to the Office of Protective Services, a unique police force that operates round-the-clock in these institutions.

But the detectives and patrol officers have been unprepared to undertake such cases, internal case files show. The records indicate officers have lacked the skills to competently question sex abuse victims, particularly the developmentally disabled.

For more information on how you can protect loved ones, please visit these resources: National Disability Rights Network ; Disability Rights Advocates

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For Your Viewing Pleasure: Older Women in Hollywood

I recently went to the movies to see Skyfall (great Bond movie, by the way), and noticed something interesting during the ten minutes of thrill seeking trailers: Coming soon to a theatre near you– older men in action movies!
Die Hard, with Bruce Willis, 57. Last Stand, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, 65. Jack Reacher, with Tom Cruise, 50. Then there’s what’s already in theaters: Tom Hanks, 57, in Atlas. Liam Neeson ,60, in Taken 2. Denzel Washington, 57, in Flight. And dare I mention the Expendables that came out August of this year.
I am normally very pleased when I see people doing notable work–whether acting or otherwise– in spite of a perceived age hindrance. Especially “older” folks.

Michelle Pfeiffer

Yes, they can still be attractive, active, and sexual; no they shouldn’t hang up the towel and go sit on a wheelchair until they die. But before we go celebrate Hollywood for embracing exciting roles for the older actor, let’s pause and remember that women in this industry still lag way behind in that regard.

In an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air last December, Meryl Streep said that when she turned fifty, all the roles offered to her were that of witches. She was amazed at how many, in fact.

Anita Singh of the Daily Telegraph points to the reality that there is a painfully low number of female writers in Hollywood which explains why there are fewer female roles. Male writers, she says, “Write about what they know: what it’s like to be a man. In the last 20 years, only four winners of the best original screenplay Oscar have been female. And the films they gave us? Thelma and LouiseThe PianoLost in Translation and Juno, all of which had great roles for women at their centre.”

But simply having more female writers would not fix this problem on its own. There needs to be a perception change. There needs to be a space for better roles for the non twenty-something actress. A certain mystery studio chief who, for a piece in Vulture, put it not-so-mildly:

“What movie would you make for them (Kate Hudson, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, et. al)? They can’t date anymore, they’re all mothers. After a while, trying to extract the same story from the same tropes gets old. […] There aren’t many roles, and there are a lot of women of the same age. So, either they take the roles that are available and then get punished because the material is bad, or if they wait, they get punished for not working enough.”

“Extracting the same story from the same tropes gets old” apparently doesn’t seem to apply to men. Taken 2? Die Hard (again?!)? It’s not about trying to put Kate Hudson or Reese Witherspoon in the role of a young blonde who’s looking for love, it’s about making movies that offer female roles beyond a young blonde looking for love.

If a 65 year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger can play the intimidating tough guy with the heart of gold, isn’t there space in Hollywood for a Michelle Pfeiffer, 54, to play the female equivalent? Isn’t there space for seasoned, funny, sexy, smart, compelling, brave female stories? After all, women are over half (50.8%) of the American population– 51 million are between the ages of 40 and 64. I’m sure Hollywood can create movies that speak to their compelling, and relevant, narratives.

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The Kind of Old Person I Know I’m Going to Be

“I used to be quite the hot toddy when I was younger, I’ll have you know.”

I’ll probably have a bowl of Recess candies in the kitchen for when the grand kids come over.

They may complain that I smell of baby powder because I hate sweating, especially down my back, but I’ll pretend I’m partially deaf in one ear whenever anyone complains about me.
I’ll probably also smell like vodka and lemonade on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
I’ll most likely be complaining about my knees.
I’ll swear up and down someone is stealing my Tupperware.
I’ll have a flower garden and grow fresh tomatoes.
I’ll probably think most kids are stupid and rude, and I’ll pretend that when I was that age I had the utmost respect for elders.
I won’t be voting most likely, having been disillusioned from years of lying politicians and an electoral system that makes my vote virtually useless if I live in a non-swing state.
I’ll probably have a favorite grandchild.
I’ll start calling dinner supper and I won’t drink liquids past 6pm unless of course it’s Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
I’ll have a gun in the house, somewhere, but I’ll probably not remember where.

I’ll be quoting the Bible too, as often as possible.
I’m going to have no idea what the kids are listening to these days.
I’m not going to know what the hell is going on with technology.
I’ll make sure my offspring and their offspring know just what a hot toddy  I was when I was younger. I’ll refer to any one night stand as a ‘suitor’, and dudes that hit on me as ‘gentlemen callers.’
I’ll probably stop shaving. Period.
I’ll definitely be taking up power walking.
I’ll make sure to say something offensive or startling every now and again to make sure people are still paying attention to me.
I’ll never leave the house without hydrated skin and a little blush.
I’ll lie about how old I am and if anyone presses, I’ll pretend I’m slightly deaf in both ears.

 

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Why SNL Will Never Be Great Again

By E. Parks

It is not fair to write a post-mortem for a show that is still on-air. I am not that old, and I don’t know much, but once upon a time Saturday Night Live was GOLD. Comedians would sell their mothers and their last pack of cigarettes to get on. It was seen as the launching pad of an amazing career. However, it is my duty to present to you the top 5 reasons why SNL, as most of us knew it, is dead and gone.

SNL

1) Pop Culture is Trash: Really great comedy comes from asking “What if?” However, many of those ridiculous scenarios exist as full length, executive produced cable programs. Not only are there fewer unexploited pop culture references out there, the SNL impersonations tend to fall flat, often due to a lack of visual accuracy (see point 5). Simply put, making fun of a caricature is not funny. Bring back the tradition of recurring characters: The Church Lady , The Spartan Cheerleaders , Mary Katherine Gallagher . These are the SNL characters of legend and Jersey Shore  impersonations don’t come close.

2) The Internet Happened, Specifically Twitter: Today, the Internet is so ubiquitous. Americans are connected to each other and the world in a matter of seconds -thoughts and ideas are shared in real time. With the advent of Twitter , I can immediately see what everyone in America is talking about whenever I want. 24/7. News breaks on Twitter faster than on traditional news sources, who then spend the next 24hrs catching up and breaking “exclusive” details. Saturday Night Live is only one day a week. Not only are most pop stories dated by the time Saturday rolls around, but they have to come up with new spins and top the countless number of jokes and spoofs already made. Take for example, Saturday’s open making fun of the President Obama/Governor Romney debate. It was boring and unimpressive compared to every discussion that occurred just days prior. My heart goes out to the SNL writers, truly. 

3) The Internet Happened Pt. 2, YouTube: Remember when everyone wanted to share “Sh-t _insert group of people here_ says?” Or better yet, which came first, Andy Samburg on SNL or The Lonely Island . There are a lot of funny people out there. Some of them know how to write down their funny thoughts, get together a group of friends, and put a knee-slapping video on YouTube. Not only can average Joe’s put up a one off, Channels are popping up on YouTube now . Yes ladies and gentlemen, TV production value comedy shows on YouTube! For people without cable like myself, it makes for quality entertainment -for SNL, a problem. I know that SNL has a great team of writers, but it is possible that they are out of touch.

4) All the Greats Leave: As I mentioned in the opening, SNL is a great launching pad. However, once someone jumps off, they rarely come back or continue writing for the show. Year after year, the most talented cast members seem to enjoy shorter stints. I’m not saying that Tina Fey shouldn’t go off and write an amazing show of her own, or that Will Ferrell should still be on, but it appears that the producers have started to fail on their replacements. Trust me, I love Keenan Thompson  more than the next person, but if I hear him say “Hell nah!” as a character one more time, I might write a strong letter to SNL, which brings me to the last point.

5) Lack of Diversity: Now I know this last one may look like I’m playing the race card, but let’s be honest. If you are going to make fun of pop culture and the world we live in, your cast should be made up of those people. Black women in pop culture cannot always be played by the one (or currently two), Black guy(s) in drag. Does anyone remember how great the Sarah Palin/Hillary Clinton sketches were? Gold! Michelle Obama/Ann Romney sketches? They don’t exist. There was this one, and the Jay-Z and Beyonce  sketch was passed around quite a bit, but you can’t tell me there aren’t any Black female comedians out there SNL worthy? Yes, I know Maya Rudolph recently left, and what about Nasim Pedrad, isn’t that diversity? The point I’m trying to make here is that either cast/write better pop culture spoofs, or don’t do them at all, because Black/brown face can only go so far.

People watch SNL because they hope, with every episode, they will bear witness to the glorious moment that SNL gets its groove back. Well, hope springs eternal from the human breast, and it ain’t happenin’. All I know is, if Honey Boo Boo aired on Saturday night then they would really be in trouble.

Click here for full information on SNL and current cast… http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/bios/

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What the Poop Is Up With My Dog?

Get Off the Couch, Steve

I should call these the Steve Chronicles because my new non-puppy puppy has given me a ton of fodder to write about. I’ve done so much research on dogs since I’ve gotten Steve that I swear I’m the new Cesar Millan. Please allow me to share some of the things that I am learning:

  1. When Steve has left us a smelly brown treat on the floor, we yell at him and send him to the corner. He hangs his head in shame because after all, pooping on the living room floor? Really Steve? Picking up dog poop—is that how you think I want to spend my next five minutes? But dogs apparently do not feel shame. Dogs do not feel guilt. According to Stanley Coren, a behaviorist from the University of British Columbia, “The dog has learned that when you appear and his droppings are visible on the floor, bad things happen to him.” Steve hangs his head in fear of the retribution that will happen, not because he has done something wrong. This might also explain why he passes gas and doesn’t seem the least bit as embarrassed as us who have to smell it.
  2. Spanking may work with unruly kids, but it doesn’t necessarily work with dogs. Most of the literature out there says hitting is something you should never do to your dog to get it to obey you. They may be terrible at understanding English, but dogs are excellent at reading body language. In fact, half the reason Steve knows I’m mad at his pooping on the living room floor is because I tense up and squeeze my fists, and practically drop a load myself I’m so angry. Getting the dog to obey me is almost as simple as letting him know with my body language and my demeanor that I’m in control. Cindy Moore from K9Web says, “Never mistake being alpha with punishment. An alpha leader is fair. An alpha leader deserves its position. An alpha leader does not use fear, punishment or brute force to achieve and maintain its position. An alpha leader, instead, makes it crystal clear what behaviors it approves of and which it does not. An alpha leader expects its subordinates to follow its lead, it does not force them to.”
  3. I can’t expect Steve to act with the self restraint of an adult. I can’t expect him to be the best of his class. In his book Dog Sense John Bradshaw very wisely remarks: “The collie who herds sheep is the shepherd’s best friend; the pet collie who tries to herd children and chases bicycles is an owner’s nightmare. The new, unrealistic standards to which many humans hold their dogs have arisen from one of several fundamental misconceptions about what dogs are and what they have been designed to do. We must come to better understand their needs and their nature if their niche in human society is not to diminish”
  4. Steve was a rescue (he doesn’t mind my sharing that with you) and he has spent a very traumatic time in the stressful environment of a rescue shelter. So when I was advised to get a crate for Steve to help his anxiety, I thought: A crate? You mean a cage? Well I’d never! Turns out, dogs are den animals. Most dogs love their crate. Steve has no problem whatsoever going into his crate when we tell him to.

    I Love This Face

  5. Dogs have the mentality and emotions of a two year old human child. Chew on that for a while…

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Abuse Victim or Pathological Liar?

Terrance Williams’ attorneys claim that prosecutors 25 years ago withheld evidence that could have granted Williams life in prison instead of lethal injection for murdering Amos Norwood. Prosecutors say Williams is trying every trick in the bag to get out of a death sentence.

‘Terry’ Williams, two-time convicted murderer who was set to be executed by lethal injection in Pennsylvania just this week, was granted  a stay of execution and a new sentence hearing, claiming that his victim Amos Norwood, raped him the day before Williams killed him with a tire iron. During his trial almost 25 years ago, prosecutors failed to mention that the two had a homosexual relationship, according to Williams’ attorneys. Williams’ attorneys—and in fact, a juror herself—claim that had they known, they would not have sentenced him to die.

Terrance ‘Terry’ Williams

Williams’ attorneys paint the picture of Williams as an 18 year old victim that had endured abuse from Norwood since he was a child  Both Williams and his friend Eric Draper were freshmen at Cheyney University when police arrested them for the murder/robbery of 56 year-old Norwood.

Norwood’s body was found propped up against a headstone in a cemetery. His car and credit card were in Atlantic City where Williams and Draper went to go gamble.  

Seth Williams, District Attorney of Philadelphia, paints a very different picture of Terry Williams. In an op-ed he wrote for Philly.com D.A. Williams claims Terry Williams is a liar who has desperately tried to manipulate his way out of every accusation and evidence presented. Claiming that sexual abuse was the motive for Norwood’s murder is just another one of those lies.

The thing is, Williams probably is a liar. It’s unlikely that the man who did this  hasn’t told his share of fibs. Maybe he was a victim of sexual abuse by older men, maybe he was a prostitute using cash to finance a gambling habit. But let’s remember that plenty of sex abuse victims or prostitutes do not go on to bludgeon and stab their aggressors/clients.

The prosecution may have withheld information all those years ago—the judge certainly thinks so. But what’s more important is whether that information is enough for a jury to garner sympathy for the two-time murderer. In the new penalty phase granted to Williams, he may very well be sentenced to death again by the new jury.

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15 Things I Learned from Adopting a Stray

Ten days ago my boyfriend and I decided to adopt a dog. Both of us being self-proclaimed “dog people”, we had been thinking about getting a new canine friend for a while. After talking with other dog owners we came across our home borough of Brooklyn, we decided that adopting from the shelter instead of buying from a pet store was the most humane thing to do.
We went to East Harlem Animal Care and Control where any and every pet that is found, abandoned or rescued in New York City is brought to. If the said pet does not find a home after an undetermined amount of time, it is euthanized. And it’s as though the dogs know it. They howl in their cages, they are eager for attention. Some are sitting in their own poop. Some are curled in sad little balls. It was haunting to see the dozens and dozens of wide-eyed, eager little faces I knew I could not take home with me.

Steve, also known as Sir Steven, or Young Steven, or Bad Dog Bad Stop It!

After a guilt-filled process of elimination that made me feel like I was looking for the perfect child instead of rescuing a needy animal (this dog is too big, this one looks gnarly, that one’s gonna shed) we settled on a golden coated one-year old Pitt mix, described in his paperwork as “friendly”, whose only bad habit was “chewing on leash during walks”.
Though it was hard to reject the other dogs because they might have been more difficult, we had to be pragmatic. After all, we live in an apartment. And we both work full time. We have limited resources and wanted to be smart about getting a pet we could handle and keep forever and ever. So we took our new Pitt home and named him Steve.
Eight days later, my boyfriend said in a heated moment of frustration: “I am seriously reconsidering our decision.” I knew he was only venting, but that was how we felt after lovely little Steve destroyed one too many shoes/shirts/mattresses/furniture.
Steve is the friendliest dog you’ll ever meet. He doesn’t bite and doesn’t bark and loves more than anything to be cuddled. But Steve also suffers from a severe case of separation anxiety. Not only that, when Steve sees my boyfriend come towards him to discipline him, Steve pees on the spot– a sign of submission.

Steve about to leave the shelter for his new home!

The truth is, Steve has a history that no one will ever know about. He was found in the Bronx as a young pup, lived God-knows-where, was somewhat malnourished when we adopted him, has two hind legs that were clearly injured at some point and healed a little awkwardly (you should see Steve jump…politically incorrectly hilarious!). His first adoptee was an elderly woman who couldn’t handle him and returned him to the shelter. He has spent the majority of his life with inconsistency and most likely, in fear.
We, of course, are not going to give Steve up. He’s ours and we love him. But in the sometimes difficult process of breaking Steve in and Steve breaking us in, I am learning a lot about love and life. Here are a few of those lessons:

15. When someone leaves your sight for a little while, it doesn’t mean they are gone forever

14. Giving praise can be just as fun as receiving it

13.  Loving means loving in spite of faults. But it is up to you to make clear which behavior you will and will not tolerate

12. If you want to impress someone, learn to follow direction

11. There’s nothing like a little sit/stay/pause action to appease anxiety

10. Eye contact during communication is important, especially if you want someone to know that you mean it

9. Respect boundaries

8. Discipline does not equal unlove. And neither does anger

7. A little treat goes a long way

6. Always say what you mean and mean what you say. Everything else is mixed messages

5. A good companionship doesn’t involve a lot of tugging and pulling

4. In fact, a great companion will not be ahead of you or behind you, but right by your side

3. Practice and patience can lead to some nifty tricks

2. Where you have been does not determine where you will end up

1. You know someone loves you when they clean up the shit you leave behind

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