Legal Momentum News Brief - August-September 2017

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September 14, 2017

Legal Momentum Tells CTV Your Morning How Shelters Can Prevent Sexual Violence in the Wake of Natural Disasters 

Legal Momentum Staff Attorney Caitlin McCartney-Gerber was invited to appear on CTV’s Your Morning news show on Thursday, September 14, to explain how shelters can prevent sexual violence in the wake of natural disasters. As she pointed out in a recent article on Legal Momentum’s Huffington Post column, natural disasters often create environments ripe for sexual exploitation, with many sexual assaults occurring at crowded evacuation sites and shelters, as happened in the aftermath of hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005. However, there are measures that can be taken ahead of time to prevent sexual violence, which Caitlin outlined for Your Morning host Ben Mulroney. These include screening and training shelter staff and security personnel and communicating clearly with evacuees.

CTV Your Morning screen shot of infographic

Legal Momentum Nominated for TrustLaw Impact Award

The Thomson Reuters Foundation has nominated Legal Momentum and pro-bono partner Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe for its 2017 TrustLaw Impact Award for our work to combat sextortion, a growing form of cyber-crime that often targets young girls. Legal Momentum and Orrick published a definitive report, A Call to Action: Ending Sextortion in the Digital Age, in July 2016, that raised the alarm on what the FBI has called “the fastest-growing threat to children” and provided a blueprint for preventive action. The report formed the center of a public awareness campaign featuring events and social media outreach. Since its release, Legal Momentum and Orrick have worked with legislators around the United States to craft and enact new laws to end sextortion. To date, new anti-sextortion laws have passed in Utah, Arkansas, and Alabama, and legislation is pending in California and other states, as well as in the U.S. Congress. The TrustLaw Awards celebrate groundbreaking pro bono projects by legal teams working with NGOs and social enterprises around the world. The Impact Award recognizes projects that demonstrate significant impact for an NGO or social enterprise, their community, and beyond. The other nominees for the Impact Award include White & Case, WilmerHale, and Fundación Carmen Pardo-Valcarce for their report, Supporting Vulnerable Victims of Crime Through the Justice System, and Unchained at Last and White & Case for their work on Ending child marriage in the United States. The TrustLaw Awards also include an Innovation Award, a Collaboration Award, and awards for law firms, legal teams, and individual lawyers recognizing their pro bono work. The awards will be given at a ceremony in London on September 28, and the winners will be kept secret until that event.

Sextortion report cover

Legal Momentum is extremely proud to have been recognized along with our pro bono partners and the other distinguished nominees. A Thomson Reuters Foundation spokesperson said, “We are thrilled to have nominated Legal Momentum—you have done some phenomenal work.”

Action: → Read a Thomson Reuters story on the impact of the sextortion report and related legislative work and litigation.

New Grant: New York City Council Young Women Initiative Awards $125,000 to Legal Momentum

Legal Momentum has been designated to receive a second $125,000 grant under the New York City Council Young Women Initiative (YWI) for its project Prevent Sexual Assault for Young Adults. The award will enable Legal Momentum to continue reshaping responses to violence so they uphold young women’s survivorship, agency, and resilience through the Rights Now! program that was rolled out in the spring of 2017 under a previous YWI grant.

Under the new grant, Legal Momentum is updating its curriculum that is specifically geared towards at-risk girls and young women. Legal Momentum will design and present workshops that empower young women to navigate and escape harmful relationships and to serve as peer educators for other young women. Peer educators will share prevention strategies including how to recognize the signs of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of violence. Workshops will also teach young women about legal resources they can turn to for help, and how to report school-based violence. All curriculum materials will be available free of charge on Legal Momentum’s website.

Action: →  To request a Rights Now! training for a New York City school or community youth organization, submit the web form.

Midwest Employers Adopt Model Domestic Violence Policy

model policy cover

Legal Momentum has been working with Chicago Says No More to bring our This Workplace Is a DV-Free Zone model policy to a wide range of employers. Chicago Says No More has packaged the model policy together with useful related information in an attractive brochure aimed at educating employers about the impacts of domestic and sexual violence on the workplace. On July 24, the organization held an employer roundtable that included American Airlines, Bank of America, KPMG, Northwestern Medicine, the City of Chicago, and Cook County, Illinois, among others. Together, they represent tens of thousands of employees. At the roundtable, they examined case studies, discussed using the model policy and relevant state and local laws, and shared ways to collaborate on addressing domestic violence effectively in the workplace. Legal Momentum’s Senior Legal Fellow, Maryann Gallagher, joined the conversation by phone.

Action: → To request a copy of the model policy, submit the web form.

Dispelling Myths about Sexual Violence on Campus and Beyond

Lynn Hecht Schafran, Senior Vice President of Legal Momentum and Director of the National Judicial Education Program, spoke at a Presidential Showcase program at the American Bar Association (ABA) Annual Meeting on August 12 titled Issues of Sexual Violence on College Campuses and Beyond: Balancing Privacy, Constitutional and Civil Rights. Lynn’s presentation aimed to dispel myths about sexual violence that undermine fairness in both campus proceedings and the courts. Her presentation was followed by a panel discussion on the federal laws and guidances used by colleges and universities in responding to both complainants and those accused.

C-SPAN screen shot

Lynn explained that “The myth that false rape accusations are rampant is itself rampant. All too often, the people who are charged with investigating these cases and making decisions about these cases don’t know anything about sexual assault. Making it worse, they’re sure they know everything.” She pointed out that many people still believe the myth that rape is committed by strangers who jump from the bushes, when, in fact, the vast majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.  While research shows that just 2 to 8 percent of rape accusations are false, a study by the National Institute of Justice found that municipal and campus officers’ estimates of the percentage of false rape reports ranged from 10 to 95 percent! Lynn emphasized that training and education can counteract the widespread misconceptions about sexual assault. The National Judicial Education Program has been providing such training since 1980. 

The other experts on the panel were Nancy Chi Cantalupo, a law professor at Barry University; Andrew T. Miltenberg, a New York lawyer who has represented more than 100 students accused of committing sexual assaults; Jane Sovern, vice chancellor for legal affairs at the City University of New York; and Tina Tchen, former executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls under President Obama. The moderator was Jennifer Mone, Deputy General Counsel at Hofstra University. The program was sponsored by the ABA Judicial Division’s National Conference of State Trial Judges, the ABA Section of Litigation, and the ABA Commission on Sexual and Domestic Violence, and was filmed by C-SPAN. The written materials from the program—many produced by NJEP—are available for free download from the ABA website.

Action: →  Read an article describing the debate on the ABA website, view the entire program on C-SPAN, or download the written materials.

Carol Robles-Román Joins Thomson Reuters Foundation Action Circle Roundtable

Krishna Patel, Monique Villa, Carol Robles-Román

Legal Momentum President and CEO Carol Robles-Román joined a select group of participants at an Action Circle lunch hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) on September 18 in New York, during the week of the UN General Assembly. The Thomson Reuters Foundation Action Circle is a global philanthropic network. Members include thought leaders, business executives, philanthropists, artists and impact investors. At the working lunch, key TRF partners discussed the core issues addressed by TRF, including freedom of speech, advancing women’s rights, progress on the fight against trafficking and modern slavery, and the responsibility of media to shed light on stories that affect the most vulnerable and are often overlooked by mainstream media.

Photo, L-R: Kirshna Patel of Grace Farms Foundation, Monique Villa of Thomson Reuters Foundation, Carol Robles-Román. 

Seher Khawaja Awarded “We Are All New York” Fellowship

The Center for Community Leadership at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York has selected Legal Momentum’s Gender Justice Fellow, Seher Khawaja, as a 2017-2018 We Are All New York Fellow. The We Are All New York Fellowship is a 10-month leadership development program dedicated to advancing the next generation of New York City’s diverse leaders and helping them become change agents to strengthen the city. It is open to emerging leaders who work for community, faith-based, government, and not-for-profit organizations in New York City. The program will include professional development, networking, meetings with experts and city leaders, and action projects, forming a supportive community for participants to move their work forward. 

Protesting the Administration’s Suspension of Data Gathering on Pay Equity

In September, Legal Momentum sent a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB), challenging the administration’s decision to suspend and reevaluate the collection of vital compensation data. This data was expected to serve as a critical tool in gender-based employment discrimination investigations. The data collection had been approved after a comprehensive and consultative review process by OMB in September, 2016, and reporting was set to begin in March 2018. It would have required large private employers and federal contractors to report compensation data by gender, race, and ethnicity.

Legal Momentum believes that this data would have helped attain the long-awaited goal of equal pay for women and minorities. Furthermore, collecting and reporting it would not present a significant burden on employers—especially in view of the potentially great benefits to society from ending existing pay gaps. In its letter, Legal Momentum challenged the legality and legitimacy of the administration’s last-minute decision to suspend implementation of the data collection, which was, in order to cater to a belated request by business interests.

Legal Momentum also sent a letter to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau urging it to encourage greater transparency in the small business financing market by collecting and sharing data on credit applications submitted by women-owned, minority-owned, and small businesses. The letter was in response to a request for information regarding the small business lending market. Although this data collection was mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010, there is now opposition to its implementation. Legal Momentum believes that this vital information would significantly enhance our understanding of the persistent barriers that prevent women and minorities from equitably accessing the financing they need.

Legal Momentum Congratulates Board Member Elizabeth Cabraser for Receiving National Law Journal Lifetime Achiever Award

On September 1, the National Law Journal announced the recipients of its 2017 Lifetime Achievers award: Elizabeth Cabraser, David Abramowitz, and Benjamin Wilson. Elizabeth has served on Legal Momentum’s board of directors since 1999, and as At Large officer since 2002. Ms. Cabraser is a co-founder of the plaintiffs-side class action firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, specializing in plaintiffs-side advocacy in a range of high-profile cases, including multi-state tobacco litigation and in landmark human rights litigation brought on behalf of Holocaust survivors. She also serves on the board of directors for the San Francisco-based Legal Aid at Work, on the council of the American Law Institute, and is completing a six-year stint on the Federal Civil Rules Advisory Committee. In addition, she is an accomplished rock-and-roll drummer.

Media Coverage Featuring Legal Momentum

8/7 ABA website:2017 ABA Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence award recipients announced

8/12 ABA News: Experts see flaws in how colleges handle sexual assault allegations

9/1 US News & World Report: Why Is the Left Angry about Gorsuch’s Speech at Trump’s Hotel

9/5 Bloomberg: How top US law firms get away with paying women less

9/8 11th circuit rules that employers must accommodate breastfeeding workers

9/13 The Hill: The Internet Safety Modernization Act is a much-needed response to a growing problem

9/14 CTV Your Morning: How shelters can prevent sexual violence in the wake of natural disasters