Legal Momentum News Brief - April/May 2016

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May 20, 2016

Legal Momentum Collaborates with New York City to Build a Leadership Future for Young Women and Girls

The New York City Council Young Women’s Initiative, released its findings and recommendations at City Hall on Monday, May 16. Legal Momentum President and CEO Carol Robles-Román serves on the YWI Steering Committee; NJEP Program Associate Lena Barsky was a member of the Community Support and Opportunity Working Group. Legal Momentum President’s Advisory Council members Elanie Paredes, a student at Barnard College, and Angelique Beluso, a former Legal Momentum intern, were both nominated by Carol to serve on the initiative’s Young Women’s Advisory Council. The initiative was the first of its kind in the nation.

Melissa Mark-Viverito and Carol Robles-Román at City Hall

“Being a part of YWI has influenced my leadership skills and has sparked my interest in policy. Now I know that my voice, along with the voices of my peers, will be heard and we can actually make a difference in our community. YWI means that the young women of color in New York City have the power to create change,” Elanie said.

Elanie Paredes with YWI sign featuring her photo

The YWI was convened by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and co-chaired by Ana Oliveira, President and CEO of the New York Women’s Foundation; Joanne Smith, Founder and Executive Director of Girls for Gender Equity; and Dr. Danielle Moss Lee, President and CEO of the YWCA of New York City, with the goal of crafting policy recommendations that address racial, gender, and other disparities. “It was thrilling to work with so many brilliant women to develop innovative ideas for advancing the potential of New York City’s young women and girls,” Lena said.

The YWI focused on five key issue areas: Health, Economic and Workforce Development, Community Support and Opportunity, Education, and Anti-Violence and Criminal Justice. The YWI assessed the current landscape of disparities facing young women and girls—especially those of color—and, in particular, gathered information about their experiences directly from young women themselves. A comprehensive social media campaign and survey, using the hashtag #SheWillBe and the website, featured both Elanie and Angelique in its outreach ads. The YWI’s recommendations create a blueprint that will guide the mayor and city administration to invest in the future of the city’s young women and girls. The City Council and philanthropic partners will also provide $20 million over two years to fund programs and services that support young women and girls in alignment with the YWI recommendations.

YWI graphic featuring Angelique Beluso

“The YWI represents a powerful collaborative that is harnessing the power and leadership of our young women, particularly girls of color,” said Carol. “Let us celebrate, because today we launch a leadership paradigm never before seen in this country, one we hope will be replicated and emulated in cities throughout the United States.”  

Photos: NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito with Carol Robles-Román at City Hall; Elanie Paredes with YWI sign featuring her photo; YWI graphic featuring Angelique Beluso

Legal Momentum Works to Help Exploited Girls and Stop Trafficking with Seattle-Based Funders and Advocates

Legal Momentum is working with collaborators and partners throughout the country on how to best serve the legal needs of exploited girls, and how to stop the commercial exploitation and trafficking of children. Activists in the Seattle area have been at the forefront of raising awareness and developing innovative strategies for tackling this difficult problem. On March 14, Legal Momentum and the Seattle Foundation presented a “Giving Lab” workshop on Strategies to End Sex Trafficking in Washington State and around the country.  The Seattle Foundation blog carried a great recap of the event:

Local and National Experts Discuss Ongoing Efforts to End Sexual Exploitation of Youth

Seattle Foundation and partner nonprofit Stolen Youth convene expert panel 

Sex trafficking, especially of children, is hardly a comfortable topic. But Seattle experts have been shining light on this difficult and growing issue, and in the process have developed techniques that have made our region a national model for addressing sex trafficking. Last night, Seattle Foundation and partner nonprofit Stolen Youth brought together some of these local and national experts to discuss how we as a community can end once and for all the sexual exploitation of youth.

National efforts target internet platforms

On a national level, Carol Robles-Román, former Deputy Mayor to Mayor Bloomberg, and now President and CEO of New York-based Legal Momentum, discussed the challenge that new internet platforms have created. She and Legal Momentum board member and advocate Loria Yeadon presented Legal Momentum’s national work targeting the internet-based businesses that have created platforms for this exploitation to multiply, covered in Robles-Román’s recent Op-Ed from the Seattle Times.

Seattle leads the nation in innovative approaches

On a local level, panelists covered Seattle’s innovative work in prosecution and victim support. Representing nonprofits, survivors, and local government, the panel included Robert Beiser of Seattle Against Slavery, Debra Boyer of the Organization for Prostitution Survivors and Valiant Richey of the King County Prosecutors Office. Their collaborative work highlighted both the alarming growth of the problem, the hopeful work being done and the myths they’re faced with dismantling.

Washington State has become a national model for its implementation of the Nordic legal model, which focuses on addressing demand rather than prosecuting victims. However, as Prosecutor Richey pointed out, one of the major myths of sex trafficking is that this is an issue that can be fully addressed by law enforcement.

Multi-pronged approaches to address demand

Instead, services like men’s accountability groups and awareness campaigns are needed to change the culture that creates this demand. The forces that drive young people into exploitation are not always simple either. Debra Boyer of the Organization for Prostitution Survivors spoke to how racism and poverty are as efficient a trafficker as any third party. From techniques like preventative outreach to high school students, training for front-line businesses like hotels, broader policy efforts and greater wraparound services for victims, the panel focused on the necessity of collaborative and multi-pronged approaches.

In the end, all spoke of the need for greater capacity. As Robert Beiser of Seattle Against Slavery pointed out, the ideas and techniques are there. The next step is the money and support to scale up these innovative programs.

Legal Momentum is working closely with these groups to find funding and support to expand these innovative programs nationally.

Lifetime Achievement Award for Penny Venetis from N.J. Law Journal

Penny Venetis, Legal Momentum’s Executive Vice President and Legal Director, is among the recipients of the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from New Jersey Law Journal, an American Law Media publication. The 25 awardees, selected for the significant impact that their work has had in shaping New Jersey law, include U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Morton Greenberg and retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein, as well as prominent partners in top New Jersey law firms.

Throughout her career, Penny has used the law as an instrument of social change, developing innovative legal precedents that protect the most vulnerable members of society. In addition to her work at Legal Momentum, Penny directs the International Human Rights Clinic at Rutgers Law School, where she has been a member of the faculty for more than 20 years. The Clinic initiated significant women’s and human rights projects and pursued landmark cases under Penny’s leadership. Penny is the author of numerous articles on the topic of enforcing human rights in the United States.

Legal Momentum Board Member Michele Mayes Featured in “Invisible… Then Gone—Minority Women Are Disappearing from Big Law—And Here’s Why”

The cover story in the March issue of the ABA Journal features honorary Legal Momentum director Michele Coleman Mayes. Michele is the General Counsel of the New York Public Library and chairs the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession.

page from March 2016 ABA Journal featuring Michele Mayes

The article, “Invisible… Then Gone—Minority Women Are Disappearing from Big Law—And Here’s Why,” discusses the reasons why women of color have struggled to advance at large law firms, including lack of mentorship and feeling excluded. As Michele says of the underrepresentation of women of color at senior levels in large firms, “When you lose ground, you lose a lot because you never had that much in the first place.”

Photo: page from March ABA Journal

“Gender Justice Warriors” Gather in San Francisco

The 11th annual Legal Momentum Women of Achievement Awards Dinner on March 16 in San Francisco was a rousing success. Legal Momentum is deeply grateful for all the wonderful support we received at this event. Our sincere thanks go out to all of our honorees, sponsors, and friends for their championing of Legal Momentum’s important work. Our distinguished honorees, representing diverse backgrounds, are trend-setters in their fields and role models for girls and women of all generations. The speakers and honorees touched us all with their heartfelt commitment to gender equality and justice.  

Carol Robles-Román

Carol Robles-Román, President and CEO of Legal Momentum: “Let's discuss tonight our other ‘women of achievement’—those who step forward and say ‘No more!’ —the women Legal Momentum has the privilege to advocate for and work with every day. New York City police officer Akema Thompson said, ‘No more!’ The college teens assaulted on their campuses, whom we have assisted in gaining justice, said, ‘No more!’  Vulnerable young girls, mostly girls of color, many in foster care, detention, or homeless—exploited, forgotten, many being trafficked online—these teen girls can't even say ‘no more.’ So we say it for them.”

Loria and Joseph Yeadon with Carol Robles-Román

Loria Yeadon, Legal Momentum board member—and the evening’s emcee: “I find it so inspiring to meet such accomplished women and to hear their stories.  These women are our role models and mentors, and I cannot emphasize enough how young girls and women NEED role models and mentors. Just call me and all of us ‘Gender Justice Warriors!’”

Mary McCutcheon, Partner and Development Chair, Insurance Recovery Practice, Farella, Braun and Martel LLP: “We are here to support an organization that fought the big battles so many years ago to make it possible for us to get to where we are.  We are here tonight, not only to thank Legal Momentum for its past work, but to support Legal Momentum as it continues to fight the big battles for other women who have not yet made it. I want to remind all of us to keep fighting those battles.”

Patty Fleischmann and Mary McCutcheon

Patty Fleischmann, Co-founder and President, StolenYouth: “For decades Legal Momentum has championed justice for women and girls. As they turn their focus to this issue, it is clear to me that they have the level of passion, commitment, and conviction about ending the sex trafficking of youth that mirrors our own. Like StolenYouth, Legal Momentum is thinking “big” about solving this problem and their ideas are daring, but spot on and doable. It’s what we need to make a significant impact.”

Meena Elliott, Senior Vice President, Chief Legal and Administrative Officer, and Corporate Secretary, Aviat Networks, Inc.: “Without the advocacy of Legal Momentum, many women would fall through the cracks. They move the needle in improving rights, increasing opportunities, and erasing inequalities for women in our society.”

LM Board members Bob Kaufman and Ethan Cohen-Coles

Salle Yoo, General Counsel, Uber Technologies, Inc. :  “The need for further work by organizations like Legal Momentum remains as critical now as then. It’s also incumbent on each of us to do our part . . . I want to charge each of us to keep the momentum going in our own corners, to be intentional in our efforts to bring up women.”

Anne Wojcicki and Kathy Hibbs

Honorees Kelly McGinnis, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at Levi Strauss and Co., as well as Anne Wojcicki, CEO and Co-founder and Kathy Hibbs, Chief Legal and Regulatory Officer, both of 23andMe, Inc., each added their own inspiring words. Ms. Wojcicki brought down the house by saying that “There are men, women, and assholes in the world, and the great thing about Legal Momentum is that it can sue the assholes, and one day there will be a world with only men and women.”

The honorees with LM board members
Photos Carol Robles-Román with sign; Loria and Joseph Yeadon with Carol Robles-Román; Patty Fleischmann and Mary McCutcheon; Legal Momentum board members Bob Kaufman and Ethan Cohen-Coles; Anne Wojcicki and Kathy Hibbs; the Honorees with Legal Momentum board members

NJEP Continues to Innovate in Judicial and Advocate Education

Legal Momentum’s NJEP (National Judicial Education Program) was part of the National Judicial Technical Assistance Provider Meeting on April 6 and 7, convened by the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women for technical assistance grantees that receive Violence Against Women Act funding to improve the courts. Technical assistance providers from around the country identified innovative new approaches to judicial education and shared expertise about current issues on which judicial education is needed.

NJEP Program Associate Lena Barsky represented Legal Momentum at the annual End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) Conference on Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, and Engaging Men and Boys in Washington, D.C., in March. The conference draws a wide range of victim advocates,  sexual assault nurse examiners, social workers, law enforcement personnel, prosecutors and advocacy organizations to learn about the latest initiatives and tactics for combating gender-based violence. Several plenary sessions focused on the need for trauma-informed approaches to helping victims. NJEP has been at the forefront of educating on this new knowledge, incorporating it into trainings since 2000.

NJEP is currently developing a new online training curriculum for non-lawyer victim advocates that will be accessible nationally. The training will help them understand the criminal justice system and their role in supporting sexual assault victims who are navigating that system, or considering doing so, including disabled victims and those with limited English proficiency. This important information has not previously been easily available to non-lawyer advocates.

 “The knowledge gained at EVAWI will improve NJEP’s new curriculum for victim advocates – helping us to better advise them on how to recruit volunteer lawyers and help victims get justice in court. The conference also provided new information on medical forensic sexual assault examinations, about which NJEP has a curriculum and a publication, and gave me some ideas for new ways in which NJEP can help advocates serve their clients,” Lena said.

Congresswoman Maloney and Legal Momentum Join Forces to Educate on Human Trafficking

The panel at Roosevelt House

On April 18, Penny Venetis and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney spoke to students at the Roosevelt House Institute at Hunter College in New York City on "Professionals' Role in Confronting Human Trafficking—How Your Career Might Intersect with Victims of Sexual Exploitation." Penny and Congresswoman Maloney, who co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on Human Trafficking and the Trafficking Task Force of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, also discussed ways to strengthen anti-trafficking laws. Legal Momentum is working together with key partners, including direct service providers and anti-trafficking groups, to end commercial exploitation of young girls and women.

The panel provided students studying law, political science, nonprofit management, or medicine with expert advice on how to spot signs of exploitation, and how to get involved in anti-trafficking efforts and victim services in their future careers. The other panelists were Dorchen Leidholdt of Sanctuary for Families; Holly Atkinson, M.D., of the Arnhold Institute for Global Health, who was a Legal Momentum board member from 1996-2006; Sonia Ossorio of NOW-New York; and  Richard Menzi of Crime Stoppers USA. Students came away from the presentation with an understanding that human trafficking occurs under our noses, victims are predominantly women and girls of color, and there are many ways for students and other members of community to get involved in anti-trafficking measures.

Photo: the panel at Roosevelt House

Penny Venetis Featured in Two Documentaries

Legal Momentum’s Executive Vice President and Legal Director, Penny Venetis, is featured in I Voted?, a documentary on the American election system that premiered at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 21. In the film, she discusses problems with the security and accuracy of electronic voting machines, which was a focus of her work on voting rights as director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Rutgers University School of Law. Penny participated in a panel discussion after the screening, along with the writer/director, Jason Grant Smith; news personalities Katie Couric and Dan Abrams; and Dr. DeForest Soaries, Jr., who chaired the U.S. Election Assistance Commission from 2003-2005. Ms. Couric was the film’s executive producer. For more information, visit

Katie Couric and Penny Venetis

Penny Venetis was also featured in another documentary that aired on the award-winning show Due Process TV in April. The film focused on the outstanding civil rights achievements of Penny’s distinguished colleague civil rights legend Professor Frank Askin, and the work that they spearheaded together at Rutgers Law School.

Photo: Katie Couric, Penny Venetis

Legal Momentum Joins Public Advocate Letitia James to Fight for Equal Pay in New York City

Letitia James and Penny Venetis

Legal Momentum was on hand on April 11 for the release of New York City Public Advocate Letitia James’s new report, Advancing Pay Equity in New York City. The report details significant facts about the pay gap as it affects the city’s working women and proposes an action plan for ending wage disparities, including creating a task force, increasing transparency about pay rates, ending the practice of considering previous salary history in hiring, and advancing family-friendly workplace policies, both at city agencies and with outside employers . Penny thanked Ms. James for her leadership on the issue and urged Mayor DeBlasio to end the wage gap. “It is outrageous that in 2016, women must still demand equal pay for equal work. New York City should be leading the charge in pay equity, but instead we’ve fallen woefully behind. Legal Momentum applauds the Public Advocate’s effort to address this issue and support New York City’s families,” said Penny.

Photo: Letitia James, Penny Venetis
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