Opinions

Do You Live in a Rapist-Friendly State? (Yes, There Is Such a Thing.)

Sexual-assault-is-everyones-problem

Hitting the lottery once in a lifetime will never happen to most of us, but Brian Brockington just hit the criminal justice system jackpot, not once, not twice, but three times. DNA evidence has linked him to three sexual assaults, but lucky old Brian will soon be released from prison without ever serving a single day for any of the assaults in question. So is Brian Brockington just one of the "luckiest" men alive? Perhaps. But he had some help. Continuing the lotto metaphor, you could say the powers that be screwed up and now all of us have to pay up, starting with the women DNA evidence links him to assaulting. Or in casino terms one might say the slot machines are severely broken and those in charge of the house haven't made repairing them a priority. As a result we'll likely see a lot more Brian Brockingtons winning the criminal lotto in coming years. Allow me to explain. As reported in the New York Daily News : Brockington, 35, was arrested on rape charges in 2007 and his cousin Rodney Howard, 36, was arrested two years later after their DNA matched evidence from a 1993 gun-point attack on a 29-year-old woman. But because of a police backlog, the DNA evidence from the crime wasn't processed for nearly a decade -- and prosecutors filed charges a day after the crime's 10-year statute of limitations expired, said Steven Reed, spokesman for the Bronx DA. The DA's office realized their error only after the cousins were arrested -- and prosecutors were forced to drop the rape charges. Brockington was subsequently linked to two other sexual assaults. The scary thing about the Brockington case (you know, besides the fact that an alleged serial rapist will likely soon be walking among us) is that the current system virtually insures that Brockington will not be the last alleged rapist set free by what some are calling a "technicality" but increasingly looks like willful legal negligence. Not simply on the part of police and prosecutors, but on the part of legislators. In interviews with representatives from organizations dedicated to aiding survivors of sexual assault and improving the criminal justice system's prosecution of sex crimes, I learned that as the current system stands the release of the Brian Brockingtons of the world is virtually inevitable, caused by a nearly perfect storm of the following: • Only five states in America have no statute of limitations for any felony, meaning any felony crime can be prosecuted at any point at which prosecutors believe there is sufficient evidence, even if the alleged crime took place decades earlier. • Only 27 states have explicit DNA exceptions on the books rendering statute of limitations non-enforceable or significantly widening the time frame for such limitations should DNA evidence link a suspect to a crime. • The Justice Department estimates there are at least 100,000 rape kits from unsolved sex crime cases waiting to be tested at labs around America. • The actual amount of evidence waiting testing nationwide is much higher than 100,000, because before DNA collection became the norm there was no universal standard for storage of such evidence. This means there is an untold amount of evidence stored in unknown places and unaccounted for, some of it misplaced and misfiled for decades. You do the math. This means that in a plurality of states, regardless of whether or not DNA evidence successfully links a perpetrator to past crimes, there is very little our criminal justice system can do to insure that perpetrator will serve any time. The reason? Because of a woefully antiquated and inept system that at the very least has been slow to adapt to the 21st century, and at the very worst has consciously chosen to treat sex crimes as low on the list of legislative and prosecutorial priorities. Despite advancements in DNA technology a number of states still adhere to arcane statute of limitations provisions, meaning regardless of what evidence is unearthed that crime may not be prosecuted. "The rationale behind statute of limitations is that memories fade. DNA doesn't fade. It's good forever," said Scott Berkowitz, President of RAINN , the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. "As long as you have the evidence, you should be able to use it anytime you finally identify the suspect." But even those states that have attempted to address the statute of limitations problem have left loopholes in them so big a truck could drive through or more accurately, a criminal can escape through. For instance, while the New York state legislature bowed to pressure in 2006 and finally amended state law to eradicate statute of limitations for class B felonies, covering those deemed the most serious sex crimes such as first degree rape, a host of sex crimes are not covered. "We wouldn't be able to prosecute a case like Penn State here in New York," Joe Farrell, a spokesperson for New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault said, referring to child molestation allegations against Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Pennsylvania State University. That means even if DNA evidence was discovered, such as a piece of one of the victim's clothing linking Sandusky to a crime, there would be nothing anyone could do to prosecute in the state of New York. "Ideally we would like to see the removal of all statute of limitations for such crimes to allow for delayed reporting." But the legal challenges presented by statute of limitations provisions represent one broken cog in a piece of machinery full of defects. In many jurisdictions the processing of DNA evidence is so backlogged that as the statute of limitations clock ticks, with the ability to prosecute certain cases drawing to a close, the DNA evidence that could be used to prosecute said cases sits unanalyzed. There have even been instances in which a perpetrator was in custody for another crime, but because a rape kit had not been processed in a timely manner he was released before he was eventually linked to an unsolved sexual assault. Some states, New York among them, have been shamed into doing the right thing and clearing the backlog. (Though the rape charges against Brian Brockington were just dropped days ago, the case represents a holdover from the years before the statute of limitations law was changed and the backlog was cleared in New York, illustrating the dangers other states face by not properly addressing those two issues immediately.) But plenty of other states have thousands of rape kits waiting to be tested, with the cities Detroit and Houston being among the worst offenders. (Click here to see an in-depth report on this issue from CBS News in 2009.) According to one expert interviewed, Houston represents a troubling, yet perfect example of just how badly broken the system is. It was originally believed there were a couple of thousand untested kits in the city, until thousands more were discovered in facilities other than labs. If every major city is like Houston -- and it is believed that many are -- then we have absolutely no way of knowing just how bad the backlog really is. We just know that it is bad. As this expert pointed out, "Part of the problem is that law enforcement is hesitant to invest resources in testing kits related to non-stranger assaults. Of course the problem is there are perpetrators who may assault someone they know as well as victimize strangers, but law enforcement may never make that connection because those kits are not being tested." (She asked that her name not be used since she is not the designated spokesperson for the organization she works with.) So what, if anything, can we all do to prevent future Brian Brockingtons from winning the criminal lotto? For starters: 1) Contact your member of Congress and urge them to support H.R. 1523, "The S.A.F.E.R. Act." S.A.F.E.R. stands for Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry. Co-sponsored by Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Ted Poe, The S.A.F.E.R. Act would create a national database of rape kits maintained by the Justice Department and would require local jurisdictions to inventory all kits in their possession. It would also allow law enforcement to track which kits are attached to cases in which the statute of limitations window is drawing to a close. 2) If you live in a state that still has statute of limitations provisions for sex crimes (and chances are you probably do) contact your state legislators and request that they amend the law. (To see which states have the worst statute of limitations provisions for sex crimes, or as I call them "predator friendly states," please click here .) If you would like to learn about other ways in which you can help, such as signing a petition in support of The S.A.F.E.R. Act, or to access contact information for your elected officials, or review the statute of limitations law in your state please click here Let's all do our part to make sure that fewer Brian Brockingtons are set free. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared.

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Here We Go Again: NYT Columnist Charles Blow Apologizes for Tweet

Charles Blow

During Wednesday night’s Republican debate, New York Timescolumnist Charles Blow tweeted a remark about Mormonism that caused quite a stir: Let me just tell you this Mitt “Muddle Mouth”: I’m a single parent and my kids are *amazing*! Stick that in your magic underwear.#CNNdebate Blow later apologized and since I don’t really even know what that comment means, I’ll just leave it at ...

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Race-Baiting Alert: Why can’t Rev. Graham believe that President Obama is Christian? [Video]

Franklin Graham

Race-Baiting Alert: Why can't Rev. Graham believe that President Obama is Christian?

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Why Every Woman Should Celebrate the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (Yes, I’m Serious)

Each year, shortly after we have made and already begun to break our New Year's resolutions, Americans become captivated by sports' most competitive contest. No I am not referring to the Super Bowl, but the contest for who will grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Landing the cover is supposed to be the equivalent of winning the Super Bowl of the modeling world (or something like that), credited with launching, or at least elevating, the careers of some of modeling's most famous and enduring names, among them Christie Brinkley and Tyra Banks. While it's arguable that it elicits very different reactions from men and women, with the New York Times describing it as "the dream book of adolescent males and the bane of feminists," I'm one feminist who believes that there's a lot for women to celebrate about the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. This year's cover girl is Kate Upton, who before receiving the honor was best known for appearing on youtube doing the "Dougie." (If you are scratching your head asking, "What's the Dougie?" click here. ) Now she's known as the next big thing. And I do mean big. Upton is not your typical model. Though her official weight is hard to pin down, there have been endless references to her "curves" which, let's face it, usually means cup size when referring to models, actresses and whatever it is that Kim Kardashian allegedly does for a living. But not in Upton's case. As one friend said refreshingly of Upton 'She's not your typical model... She will eat anything." Lengthy profiles in outlets like the Times and the Daily Mail have chronicled her management team's, seemingly uphill battle to establish her and her ample assets, in modeling's incredibly shrinking world, where a size 4 makes you chubby and a size 10 makes you borderline plus size. Some of the vitriol aimed at Upton -- much of it by women no less -- reinforces the notion that even in the non-high fashion world of swimsuit and lingerie modeling, there is little tolerance for bodies that dare to look -- gasp! -- healthy and not borderline skeletal. Speaking of Upton, who has already drawn comparisons to legendary curvy (all over) beauties like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Neophitou, who helps cast the Victoria's Secret runway show said "We would never use" someone like Upton, describing her looks as comparable to those of the half-naked "glamour" models popular in European tabloids. Underneath photos of Upton at her model heaviest -- which was still thinner than most of us -- anonymous commenters referred to her as a "cow." (No, I'm not joking.) Her own agent at A-list firm IMG has said that colleagues were initially against signing her, owing to her non-traditional look. Upton's triumph comes at an interesting time in the fashion world. Katie Halchishick, a former plus-size model, recently launched Natural Model Management. The agency specializes in models who are not plus-size or underweight but a healthy 6 to size 10. Halchishick was inspired after her own successful career as a plus-size model came to a screeching halt when she began dating a personal trainer and lost fifty pounds, and subsequently ended up losing most of her clients. Down to a healthy size 6 she found there were virtually zero opportunities for a model who was above a size 2 but below a size 14, a sentiment echoed by one of the few plus-size supermodels Crystal Renn. Or should I say former plus-size supermodel? Renn, one of the few plus-size models to find mainstream success in high fashion magazines and with top designers, has struggled with the industry's mercurial weight specifications for years. She has openly discussed battling an eating disorder earlier in her career, but recently landed the ultimate validation that at her current weight, which is not stick-thin, but healthy, she looks absolutely fabulous. She appears alongside Kate Upton in the current issue of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Of the honor, Renn said, "I have been a double-zero to a 16 even, for a bit.... Now to settle at a [size] six or an eight, it's a really interesting place to be because there are very few sixes or eights." Her statement echoes those of one of the most famous supermodels ever. Cindy Crawford has expressed doubts that she, and some of her peers from the heyday of the "supermodel" in the 90's would have made it today, because most of them were a size 6. And that's why I, speaking as a woman and a feminist, am actually a big fan of Sports Illustrated including its swimsuit issue. While the rest of the modeling world has increasingly celebrated body types that look like a 16-year-old girl's head placed on top of a 13-year-old boy's body, Sports Illustrated has continuously celebrated healthy female bodies. Before the eye-rolling begins, yes, I know that many of those bodies have had a lot more in common with Pamela Anderson than, say, Serena Williams, but Sports Illustrated has also featured a number of beautiful, healthy-looking female athletes in the swimsuit issue, along with a number of male athletes and their beautiful, healthy-looking wives. Some of my favorite photos over the years have featured these women, who don't look like supermodels, but do look beautiful, healthy, happy and like real people. Not some ridiculous, undernourished, overly airbrushed myth of what real people are supposed to look like. (Click here to see some of my favorites.) Based on responses from teen girls regarding questions about their body image, it's arguable the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue could end up having the positive impact on young girls that the Dove real women campaign tried, but some in the industry, believe failed to. The responses illustrate that while teen girls consider most models underweight, they consider themselves overweight. Yet they would still rather look like the images they see in popular culture because while models may be underweight, they also seem glamorous, or at least their lives do. The Dove Real Women campaign exuded a lot of things -- confidence among them -- but glamour it did not. So maybe, just maybe, seeing real women looking, happy, healthy and glamorous, bikini and all, may send a message to some girls and women that you don't have to be underweight and unhealthy to live a great, or in the words of Sheila E., "Glamorous Life." Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared.

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Our Black History Month Series: Organizing for the Jena Six

School Fight

Our Black History Month Series: Organizing for the Jena Six

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Don’t Talk About Whitney, Focus on Yourself

While folks like Cicely Tyson, Phylicia Rashad, Maya Angelou, Voncile Mallory (my mother) and others are gracefully aging, we younger folks aren’t doing as well. Following the untimely passing of legendary singer and actress Whitney Houston, many seem fixated on her cause of death, alleged troubles and pretty much anything negative they can latch on to. RELATED: When Beloved Icons Become Black History SEE OUR FULL WHITNEY HOUSTON COVERAGE HERE CHECK OUT OUR BLACK HISTORY MONTH GAME CHANGER: Merck CEO Breaks Ground In Business World But instead of focusing on how she died, we need to pay attention to how we live. When did you last jot down a list of your own demons? What does it mean to be a real, genuine friend to someone? Though we don’t know definitively what cut this multitalented woman’s life so short, we do know that life brings trials and tribulations for all of us and it’s time for a serious global intervention. When was the last time you saw a friend doing something crazy and didn’t say a word? Why is it that we are taught to “mind our own business” and keep quiet even though we know somebody is engaged in destructive behavior? Not paying child support, cheating on a spouse, not taking care of kids, always borrowing money, constantly looking for the next hustle instead of getting a job… these are some of the things that if they don’t kill you, they’ll kill those around you. Let’s not pretend that they don’t exist. Instead of just explaining away our issues, why not tackle them head on by first and foremost admitting that they occur. We simply cannot go around turning our backs to things like substance abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism, gambling or any other form of troubling behavior. If you know someone suffering from depression, step in. If you think a friend is drinking too much or taking drugs, you have got to speak up. If a young person is talking about guns and violence, please, please, please do something. Society often teaches us to be selfish, to go for our own. And though there’s nothing wrong with setting the bar high and achieving your goals, we cannot leave each other behind in the process. You’d be surprised how many of our co-workers, neighbors, friends or loved ones are suffering through a major battle, and they’re just one intervention away from a breakthrough. What are we doing to prevent him/her from heading down the wrong path? Instead of expressing regret after someone is gone, let’s take a hard look at how we’re living and how we’re treating the people in our lives. We may never know the extent of Whitney’s battles. But we know she’s gone at 48 and that ain’t right. The lesson is that we must deal with our own lives and figure out what it means to be an honest friend to someone else. It doesn’t mean being there when things are great, or hanging out when it’s time to have fun. A true friend says something and takes action when they see things are wrong. A true friend is there when times are tough. A true friend intervenes before it’s too late. A true friend cares less about the friendship and more about the friend. SEE OUR FULL WHITNEY HOUSTON COVERAGE HERE CHECK OUT MORE BLACK HISTORY MONTH GAME CHANGERS: Olympic Medalist Tries To Prevent Black Kids From Drowning Former NFL Player Fights Lung Cancer To Honor Late Wife

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Tell Harris Publications: Fire Vanessa Satten

XXL

Tell Harris Publications: Fire Vanessa Satten

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Don’t Discount the Underdog

Earlier this week, die-hard Knicks supporter and filmmaker Spike Lee joined my MSNBC show 'Politics Nation' to discuss a little non-political news: basketball is back with a vengeance. Thanks to the impeccable, almost unbelievable skills of 23-year-old Jeremy Lin, the sport and the Knicks themselves have seen a shocking resurrection from fans who grew increasingly exhausted of lock outs and negotiations. The timing couldn't be better; the story, some say, is 'Cinderella-like.' I prefer calling it a tale of perseverance; a narrative about the underdog triumphing after being consistently discounted. Perhaps, most importantly, it's a lesson for all of us to never look down upon the marginalized. Some people believe life is a lottery, that if you're born into the correct circumstances, you will excel. I view life as an opportunity, that given an equal shot and a level playing field, anyone can achieve their dreams and reach excellence. Lin's rags-to-riches story is about more than just basketball. Continuously dismissed by teams -- including his own -- and literally sleeping on his brother's couch in Manhattan, the Taiwanese American is living proof that the underdog can and will win. After being benched for so long, Lin is finally given a chance by default and goes on to save the Knicks and bring such renewed craze to the game that it's virtually impossible to find any available tickets at Madison Square Garden for the season. The Harvard grad who nobody believed had such fantastic sports skills now has the fastest-growing athletic brand according to Forbes -- $14 million and rising. Every day we walk past or ignore another Lin -- people who may not look like what society deems a 'winner.' People who have been silenced or beaten down by injustice. People who are suppressed with unequal access to quality education, employment, fair housing and safe neighborhoods. People who may be working multiple jobs, struggling to feed their children or figuring out how they will pay their rent. But given the right circumstances, all of these folks would shine just like Lin; there's a Lin in every school, church, job, etc. And just like Lin, you may be ignored, but it's vital to never lose sight of your own strengths and your own abilities. No matter how many times they try to force you down, rise and stand tall yet again. Keep fighting until the world knows your worth. There's an old saying that teaches us to be the best at whatever it is we're doing. So if you're mopping floors, do it to perfection. If you're driving a bus, be the best bus driver there ever was. If you're teaching kids, prove that your knowledge can make a difference in someone's life. If you're an artist, practice, practice and practice until they can no longer overlook your talents. Regardless of what you're doing in life and how many doors have been slammed in your face, stay on track because sooner rather than later, your good work and gifts cannot be hidden. And just like Lin, the right opportunity will create the perfect circumstance for you to showcase your genius to the world. And for those that would like to easily ignore or further disenfranchise people, just remember that the person you think may look like an easy target may very well be the one dunking over your head tomorrow.

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Bolling tells Rep. Waters: "Step away from the crack pipe"

Bolling tells Rep. Waters: "Step away from the crack pipe"

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Bank Settlement Leaves Much to be Desired

bank-of-america-logo

Bank settlement leaves much to be desired

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