Legal Momentum in the Media
Date: March 7, 2017
Yiota Souras, LAW ’99, and Carol Robles-Román, FCLC ’83, have for many years worked as lawyers and policy advocates at the forefront of efforts to prevent child exploitation and sex trafficking—Souras in her role as general counsel for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Robles-Román in her role as president and CEO of Legal Momentum, the women’s legal defense and education fund, and in her past role as a deputy mayor for legal affairs under Michael Bloomberg in New York City.
It’s not the kind of work that typically leads to the silver screen. But both Souras and Robles-Román played prominent roles in the new documentary I Am Jane Doe, which debuted in cities across America during February, their voices among a broad cast of legal defenders, parent plaintiffs, politicians, and recovering young women filing litigation against Backpage.com, an online classifieds site with an adult services section used by pimps to peddle prostitution with trafficked minors.
Date: February 22, 2017
Women’s advocates were particularly dismayed by the news that the White House is planning “dramatic” federal budget cuts that include all 25 of the grant programs managed by the Office on Violence Against Women, which is housed in the Department of Justice.
Such cutbacks would be dangerously counterproductive, according to activists in a broad range of women’s rights, civil rights, faith-based, labor, and law enforcement groups. “I don’t think it is extreme if I say to you that women will die,” Lynn Hecht Schafran, senior vice-president of Legal Momentum, warned in a call for action sent to the organization’s supporters.
The proposed budget cuts don’t even make economic sense, according to experts. “VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act) has saved taxpayers billions of dollars in costs for medical and mental health services, as well as costs for law enforcement and justice system expenditures,” Schafran wrote. “VAWA’s 25 grant programs are not wasteful, and they represent just over one hundredth of one percent of the federal budget.”
Date: February 22, 2017
A Florida woman and an anti-human trafficking organization are joining the legal campaign targeting Backpage.com, the classifieds website criticized as a hub for illegal prostitution and sex trafficking of underage teens.
The federal lawsuit was filed this week by an unidentified 30-year-old woman who says she was the victim of trafficking through Backpage, and Florida Abolitionist, an Orlando anti-trafficking organization. A second lawsuit was filed on behalf of Sojourner, an Arizona nonprofit victims’ resource organization.
The lawsuits are the latest legal salvos against Backpage and its current and former executives, who are facing criminal charges of money laundering in California over accusations of human trafficking.
“The online exploitation of teen girls is the biggest human rights violation of our time,” said Carol Robles-Román, the president of Legal Momentum, a New York women’s rights nonprofit that helped file the lawsuits.
“Backpage.com knowingly facilitated this evil and must be held accountable to the harmed girls and to the organizations that provide them services so they can heal and recover.”
In preparing the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Orlando, Legal Momentum consulted with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Human Trafficking Unit, which has made investigating traffickers, and providing services for victims, a priority in recent years.
“I’m delighted the microscope has been focused on Backpage and the internet that has become an instrument for this modern-day slavery,” State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said of the lawsuit.
Date: February 1, 2017
This detailed article on the serious damage that potential cuts to VAWA funding would cause quotes both Legal Momentum Senior Vice President and Director of the National Judicial Education Program Lynn Hecht Schafran, and Legal Momentum Board Member Kim Gandy.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that without VAWA and these various efforts to serve survivors, we will have more deaths among women, and men in same sex couples, and the death toll will rise,” said Lynn Hecht Schafran, senior vice president of Legal Momentum, who has long trained judges on gender bias in the courtroom.
“Law enforcement hasn’t had to fight very hard for funding,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “There’s no doubt in my mind that’s one of the things that smoothed passage of the original Violence Against Women Act in 1994, was that more of than half of the funding went to law enforcement.”
The Fraternal Order of Police, the national cop union that endorsed Trump, said it would oppose a proposal to gut VAWA grants.
Date: January 20, 2017
One of Donald Trump's first actions as president could be cutting federal funding for violence against women programs. The Hill reported January 20 that Trump has modeled his budget proposals off the Heritage Foundation's "Blueprint for Balance: A Federal Budget for 2017."
The conservative think tank's budget proposal aims to shrink government spending and reduce the federal deficit. To do so, it also needs to cut government programs. Along with cutting the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, the proposal suggests cutting all funding for Violence Against Women grants.
The Violence Against Women grants were established by the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)—a landmark piece of women's rights legislation, and pet project of former vice president Joe Biden.
Among other things, VAWA made interstate domestic violence a federal crime, and established the federal Office of Violence against Women. Since VAWA's passage, domestic violence rates in the U.S. have dropped 64%.
VAWA also has 25 different anti-violence grants, which provide legal assistance for abuse survivors, housing for victims of domestic violence, and other crucial services.The Office of Violence Against Women has provided more than $4.7 billion in grants since 1995. According to attorney Lynn Hecht Schafran, senior vice president at Legal Momentum, these grants are responsible for everything from teaching judges about the effects of trauma on rape victims to providing services for sight- or hearing-impaired victims.
Asked what would happen if funding for the VAWA grants was pulled, Schafran responded:
"I don't think it is extreme if I say to you that women will die. Over the years of VAWA, we have brought down the number of women killed in this situation because, by having programs and safety procedures and transitional housing, we've made it possible for victims to leave these dangerous situations and make new lives. But if we do not have programs that are actively seeking ways to prevent this kind of violence, and are providing ways for endangered women and their children to be safe, women will die."
Meanwhile, The Heritage Foundation argues that such programs are better left to the states. In its budget proposal, the foundation states that all VAWA grants should be "terminated" because their services should be funded and implemented on a local level. The budget proposal calls federal funding for anti-violence programs a "misuse of federal resources” and a "distraction from concerns that are truly the province of the federal government."
Trump has not yet put forward his preferred budget, and it may well differ from what the Heritage Foundation proposed. But The Hill reports the foundation helped staff the Trump transition team, and that two Trump staffers were already discussing their budget plans with White House staff before the inauguration.
Date: January 9, 2017
Robles-Román said, “Mary, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t believe the advocates, because I wasn’t reading about it anywhere. But, when I visited homeless shelters or schools, inevitably one student would stay afterward and say, ‘Don’t look at me—I don’t want you to know who I am—but I was trafficked.’ Why is it a secret how many children are being raped by pedophiles?”
“The endgame,” Robles-Román said, “is getting an injustice out of our justice system.” Referring to the 1896 case that upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine, she continued, “Plessy v. Ferguson—thank God people didn’t just say, ‘Well, the Supreme Court has ruled, let’s move on.’ ”
Date: December 5, 2016
LONDON, Dec 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Technology has fuelled a surge in the buying and selling of children online for sexual abuse with advertising a child on the internet as "easy as booking an airfare", campaigners told an anti-slavery conference in London.
Lawyer Carol Robles-Roman, who was deputy mayor for legal affairs to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said legal reform was urgently needed to protect children from online sexual exploitation.
Date: October 6, 2016
Carol Robles-Román, the president and chief executive of Legal Momentum, a women’s legal defense and education fund based in New York, said she had been lobbying for action against Backpage for two years, saying the ads it hosts were targeting children.
Backpage describes itself as the second-largest online classified advertising service in the country, according to court records.
“They’re like the McDonald’s of trafficking,” she said in an interview on Thursday night. “They made is so easy.”
Date: July 27, 2016
Lynn Hecht Schafran, senior vice president at Legal Momentum, which advocates for abuse victims, said a rape crisis agency once contacted her about something they were writing that would’ve said it’d be good if rape victims did not have to testify at trial.
“I told them that is not the U.S. system,” Schafran said. “They would be misleading the people they’re advocating for, and have no credibility with the folks of the legal community.”
The U.S. judicial system is an adversarial one, experts interviewed repeatedly said, and one that obligates a defense attorney to zealously defend their client.
Hackers Could Steal Your Data and Use It to Extort Nude Photos—in Fact, They're Already Doing It to Hundreds of People Every DayDate: July 22, 2016
In this powerful op-ed piece, Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO Monique Villa outlines the dangers of "sextortion" and how the law needs to change to protect women and girls. The piece highlights Legal Momentum's report, "A Call to Action—Ending Sextortion in the Digital Age."
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