Nel's New Day

January 7, 2013

Rape & Football, The U.S. Way

Five months ago, two football players in the small town of Steubenville (OH) were charged with dragging a drunk 16-year-old girl from house to house, raping her and using their cellphones to photograph and video their actions. Nothing much else happened: the boys were thrown out of the drama club but allowed to play football.

Then Alexandria Goddard started writing about the case on her blog, asking why more of the young people with the three people were not prosecuted. That was followed by the New York Times article that described, among other things, that the videos showed the girl taunted, urinated upon, carried around while “sleeping,” vomiting in the street, photographed nude, and videotaped while being digitally penetrated.

There was no semen collected, no toxicology tests administered for drugs that might have shown whether the girl was drugged. The family in question received death threats after raising rape accusations. A Steubenville football coach, Nate Hubbard, said, “The rape was just an excuse, I think. What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that?” Sheriff Fred Abdulla said that witnessing the crime but not reporting it is not illegal. Thus the “blame the victim” approach.

Then in December two computer hackers entered the picture, setting up websites including where they posted incriminating tweets, photos, videos, and emails. From that information came the allegation that football players, who called themselves #rapecrew on Twitter, had raped another girl on the night of the senior prom, again with photos and videos of the girl’s naked, unconscious body. Another allegation was that “Big Red” booster Jim Parks, according to his email that included pornographic images, was #rapecrew’s chief, paying football players to rape and then photograph their victims.

Abdalla said that he would not be prosecuting anyone else for crimes related to the case. Referring to a video showing several other young men joking about an assault, he said, “It’s a disgusting video. It’s stupidity. But you can’t arrest somebody for being stupid.” Abdalla claimed to have seen the video only a few days ago although it has been in his possession for months. Anonymous, one of the hackers, also made public the photo of two young men carrying the still victim by her wrists and ankles.

Although three students testified under oath that they took photographs and videos of the victims they walked left court with no charges against them.  They weren’t suspended  from extracurricular activities (including sports) until October 15th, more than two months after the travesty. Attorneys have said that potential witnesses are reluctant to come forward because they are being threatened and pressured not to testify and asked that the trial be moved and closed to the public.

Another disaster connected to football has cropped up in Pennsylvania. Once Penn State former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of child abuse and N.C.A.A. sanctioned the school because it had ignored Sandusky’s behavior, the tragedy seemed to be settled and people could move forward.

Now Gov. Tom Corbett is suing N.C.A.A., demanding that there be no penalties for the school’s failure to stop Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys. Corbett should have stayed quiet. As the state attorney general in 2009, Corbett began a less-than-enthusiastic investigation into allegations against Sandusky before he was elected governor and served on the school’s board of trustees. Kathleen Kane, the incoming attorney general, has said she will investigate the concerns that Corbett didn’t want to alienate Penn State alumni when he ran for governor. To add to his problems, he is up for re-election next year.

The lawsuit claims that the state is losing money because of the penalties, including a $60 million fine, vacating of victories for ten years, and a four-year ban on postseason play. Legal experts have said that the university accepted the settlement last July.  Penn State is not a party to the lawsuit, and an outsider like Corbett may have trouble proving that he has standing to file the lawsuit.

Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison. Three university officials, including the former president Graham B. Spanier, have been criminally charged with covering up his misconduct and are facing trials. The university’s investigation found that top university officials had shown a disregard for the welfare of children and actively concealed Sandusky’s assaults because they feared that the publicity would hurt the football program.

GOP legislators are known for dragging their heels in making the United States safer for women. The fall campaign made the subject of rape front and center in the media as GOP candidates tried to be experts on the issue while refusing to renew the Violence against Women Act because it would  have given tribal courts broader jurisdiction over rape on Native American lands. The House continued to play politics with rape during the last days of the 112th Congress as it sabotaged a bipartisan bill that, if passed, would have made tracking down rapists easier.

In December, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) took The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act (SAFER Act), introduced in the Senate by John Cornyn (R-TX), to the House. If passed, it would reallocate $117 million to make a dent in the nationwide backlog of untested “rape kits” that contain forensic evidence collected after sexual assaults. Approximately 400,000 untested kits are in labs around the country. Without analysis of the DNA evidence, rapists have an easier time avoiding arrest and prosecution.

Passing the legislation wouldn’t cost taxpayers any more money. It would just have required at least 75 percent of federal grants already allocated for rape kit testing to actually be used for that purpose instead of being spent on conferences or processing DNA for other crimes. The money would also be spent for a reporting system and annual audits of untested kits. Even Tea Party member Rep. Allen West (R-FL) supported SAFER.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the House judiciary committee, blocked it (he said) because the act would require law enforcement to report specifics of each backlogged case to the Department of Justice. The Senate tried to appease Smith when it unanimously passed a version of the bill that would require only aggregate reporting.  Trying to look like good guys, the House passed an amended SAFER Act on the last day that it was in session, meaning that there was no time to reconcile the Senate and the House bills. One House amendment would have given grant money to law enforcement agencies as well as forensic labs.

Without these amendments, the bill would have passed, the president would have signed it, and it would have become law. Thanks to the GOP amendments, the untested kits will continue to sit in the labs.

Let’s hope that the courts in Steubenville  and Pennsylvania will be more successful in giving justice to rape and sexual assault victims.

December 17, 2011

Conservatives Ambivalent about Controlling Internet

Net neutrality was a big story a month ago when the Senate Democrats, in a 52 to 46 vote, stopped a Republican attempt to repeal rules that prohibit Internet service providers from slowing down or blocking access to legitimate websites. Even FCC spokesman said the vote was “a win for consumers and businesses.”

Republicans use the typical excuse in their votes to  give advantages to big business by saying that these rules are an unnecessary burden on businesses and an attempt for the government to control the Internet. Except for two absences, all Senate Republicans voted to repeal the rules, and all Democrats voted to maintain them.

Verizon has since filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the FCC overstepped its authority by trying to regulate broadband Internet service. The same court that ruled against Comcast last year, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, will hear the Verizon case. Comcast sued after FCC sanctioned Comcast for slowing down users’ access to file-sharing site BitTorrent, arguing it violated an FCC policy statement. If the court strikes down the net-neutrality rules, the FCC could choose to re-classify broadband Internet as a “telephone service” as opposed to an “information service.” The FCC has a much broader authority to regulate telephone companies.

The month before Republicans, who moaned about “government control of the Internet,” decided to control the Internet. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), demands that search engines, Internet providers, and ad networks cut ties with websites “dedicated” to copyright infringement.

SOPA would create a “blacklist” of websites that infringe on copyrights. Private companies who allege that a site is unlawfully publishing their copyrighted content could, with a judge’s signature, demand that ad networks and companies such as PayPal and Visa stop doing business with such sites. Internet service providers would need to prevent Americans from visiting them. Prosecution would result from just suspicion of wrongdoing—just like the new law stating that U.S. citizens can be indefinitely imprisoned without a trial on suspicion of terrorist activities.

A website that deliberately acts “to avoid confirming a high probability of the use…of the site” to commit infringements” faces getting shut down by a lawsuit from a rightsholder, or having its credit card and ad funding pulled by a court order. Terms like “high probability” and “avoid confirming” aren’t defined, making prosecution—even of innocent people—far easier. SOPA adds a new violation to copyright infringement called “lacking sufficient zeal to prevent copyright infringement.”

SOPA would “criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself,” according to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and effectively break the Internet. It would punish web firms, including search engines, that link to foreign websites dedicated to online piracy. Schmidt compared SOPA to the censorship practiced by repressive foreign governments like China. He also criticized SOPA for targeting the Domain Name System, which experts have warned could undermine the security of the Web.

The House bill states that any online service provider who has a DNS server has to generally “take technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access by its subscribers” to the targeted site. This includes DNS redirecting, but also can include any number of unspecified actions. What they are is completely unknown.

Supporters of  SOPA include the Motion Picture Association of America (not surprising), the pharmaceutical industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and even the International Association of Firefighters, who say that piracy saps the tax dollars that support emergency services.

Opponents run the gamut from progressive rights groups who say the bill could stifle free expression online to tea party activists who say that the measure gives far too much business-strangling power to the government. Wikipedia said they may temporarily blank out its pages in protest; other websites including Tumblr, Reddit and Firefox already have.

Even librarians are riled about SOPA. Representatives of 139,000 libraries stated that this bill “could threaten important library and educational activities.” If  SOPA passed, the court could find a person guilty even if the person believed the actions were legal. The new law would impose “ both misdemeanor and felony penalties for non-commercial public performances.” In addition, the proposed law would make colleges and universities far more liable to criminal prosecution even if they are operating under the assumption that their use of materials is reasonable.

Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law expert at Harvard Law School, argued that SOPA violates the First Amendment because it amounts to illegal “prior restraint,” suppressing speech without a judicial hearing. He also wrote to House members that the law’s definition of a rogue website is unconstitutionally vague:  “Conceivably, an entire website containing tens of thousands of pages could be targeted if only a single page were accused of infringement. Such an approach would create severe practical problems for sites with substantial user-generated content, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and for blogs that allow users to post videos, photos, and other materials.” In addition Tribe argued that  SOPA undermines the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which protected websites from being held responsible for the actions of their users.

A competing legal analysis by constitutional law expert Floyd Abrams claimed that the First Amendment does not protect copyright infringement and the bill’s protections are sufficient to not cause a chilling effect on protected speech. Abrams wrote the analysis on behalf of a coalition of movie and television associations which support the legislation.

SOPA is a great way for the entertainment industry to destroy the Internet and force people to go back the movie theater or sit in front of a small screen to watch reality shows. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) took the lead in the Senate to support SOPA with the Protect IP Act and might have succeeded with no debate if Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) had not put a hold on it and promised a filibuster. (Occasionally these are good!)

The House Judiciary Committee spent 12 hours Thursday debating SOPA and adjourned yesterday without a vote to move it onto the House and without a revised schedule for any vote. The bill’s sponsors were continually exposed for knowing almost nothing about how the Internet functions. During Thursday’s session, more than one lawmaker insisted that Congress could pass the measure without understanding the architecture of the Internet and how the bill could change the way the web works.

The committee also heard no testimony from experts on internet engineering or network infrastructure, even as it faces widespread opposition from the Internet industry. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who opposes SOPA, has confirmed that talks regarding SOPA will continue Dec. 21. It’s my guess that very few representatives will be there for the meeting so soon before their holiday; their recess was scheduled to begin on December 8.

Basically the bill is about copyright infringement. The United States has laws against copyright infringement. Congress just wants to make the search engines be the police to watch for this infringement—and make them take the blame if someone else infringes copyrights.

If the bill doesn’t pass before December 31, 2011, sponsors have to start from scratch in 2012. It’s a guarantee that millions of Internet lovers will provide lots of scrutiny for the destruction of the Internet.  

Thanks to the Internet, people can track the committee’s efforts to do away with the Internet. Enjoy! (At least as long as it exists.)

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