Legal Momentum News Brief—Week of April 23, 2018

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April 2018

Legal Momentum Provides Content for New Law to Combat Sexual Harassment in New York City 

On April 11, 2018, the New York City Council passed the “Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act,” a comprehensive package of 11 bills that will protect New Yorkers against sexual harassment in the workplace. Language, content, and recommendations provided to the City’s Human Rights Commission by Legal Momentum were included in the new law. Legal Momentum’s recommendations included mandatory sexual harassment training for public and private employers, expanding education on anti-sexual harassment provisions, requiring city employers to report on workplace sexual harassment complaints, and extending the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims.

Women Valued Initiative Launches

Legal Momentum’s Women Valued Initiative is a new campaign to empower working women—especially low-wage and immigrant women who are particularly subject to harassment and abuse—by educating them about their legal rights in the workplace. The initiative will include a comprehensive, easily readable guide authored by Legal Momentum Gender Justice Fellow Seher Khawaja, fact sheets on workplace rights, workshops, and presentations for community groups that serve women and girls.

To launch this program, Legal Momentum conducted a first-time “Know Your Rights” workshop for 20 immigrant women at the Women for Afghan Women community organization. The one-hour workshop, which was translated, provided an overview of workplace rights in New York State, covering 11 key areas: sex discrimination; sexual harassment; equal pay; minimum wage and wage theft; safe workplaces; gender-based violence in the workplace; pregnancy, breastfeeding, and childbirth; paid family leave, child care assistance, public benefits, and collective action. During the workshop, which provided targeted guidance for immigrant women, participants raised several examples of scenarios where friends and family had dealt with difficult employment issues, noting the importance of having this information.

Legal Momentum’s Rights Now! Workshop Empowers Young Mothers at Covenant House

On Wednesday, April 18th, Legal Momentum’s Rights Now! Peer Educators facilitated a workshop with Covenant House's Mother/Child Program. The Mother/Child program was created to help homeless, young, single mothers and pregnant teenagers secure a brighter, more stable future for themselves and their babies. Six young women attended; each was either pregnant or accompanied by a baby (as young as four months!) or a toddler. Legal Momentum's Executive Director, Carol Moody, attended and sat at the table, participating in many of the activities. Participants learned how to define the terms power, privilege, oppression, stereotype, and discrimination. They shared stories about how these terms apply to their own lives. In their feedback, the young women expressed how much they valued the workshop experience, saying they “loved this workshop,” and “this was a great workshop.”

Legal Momentum Gives Expert Testimony on Sex Crimes

Legal Momentum’s Lynn Hecht Schafran, SVP and Director of the National Judicial Education Program, provided expert testimony at a hearing held on April 9 by the New York City Council Committees on Women and Public Safety to examine the NYPD’s response to sex crimes. The hearing was in response to “An Investigation of NYPD’s Special Victims Division—Adult Sex Crimes,” a recent report that revealed significant deficiencies in the NYPD’s handling of sex crimes. Ms. Schafran pointed out how law enforcement practices rooted in conscious or unconscious gender stereotypes (“gender-biased policing”) have a discriminatory and disproportionate impact on women. Gender-biased policing subjects women and LGBT individuals to harassment, violence, or hostility by police officers. It is most often a problem in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault, and often results from a lack of accurate, substantive knowledge about the many aspects of sexual violence. Examples include:

  • Failing to properly investigate sexual assault complaints or misclassifying them;
  • Failing to test sexual assault kits timely or at all;
  • Discounting intimate partner sexual violence in same-sex couples; and
  • Failing to hold accountable police officers who used their position to sexually harass or assault.

Legal Momentum and the City’s Department of Investigations, which wrote the report, recommend remedies including assigning all sex crimes to the Special Victims Division, increasing SVD staffing to meet the need, and improving training.