Media Coverage

Legal Momentum in the Media

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  • Date: April 13, 2019 Featured In: The New York Times

    Legal Momentum Senior Vice President, Legal Director, and Director of the National Judicial Education Program (NJEP) Lynn Hecht Schafran, Esq. spoke with the New York Times about the history of marital rape statutes, and the unique traumas suffered by marital rape survivors. The Times piece also highlights Minnesota survivor Jenny Teeson's work to close legal loopholes around marital rape in her home state. Lynn's quote below:

    The fight to criminalize marital rape stretches back decades

    While the issue of marital rape came up as early as the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, it was eclipsed by the push for voting rights, said Lynn Hecht Schafran, the director of the National Judicial Education Program at Legal Momentum, a women’s legal defense organization.

    It wasn’t until the 1970s that women’s rights activists started campaigning for states to criminalize marital rape, a difficult goal in male-dominated state legislatures. By 1993, they had succeeded in all 50 states, though the laws and legal precedents vary widely...

    American statutes on marital rape were carried over from English laws, which drew on writings by the 17th-century jurist Matthew Hale on “contractual consent.” Ms. Schafran said they were tied to the notion that rape by an intimate partner was somehow less painful.

    “In fact, the opposite is true,” she said. “The loss of trust is devastating.”

    Read the full article.

  • Date: April 4, 2019 Featured In: The New York Times

    Legal Momentum President & CEO Carol Baldwin Moody spoke with the New York Times about the current effort to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and the fact that on April 4, the 2019 VAWA reauthorization bill passed the U. S. House of Representatives. Carol's quote below:

    The act has established the National Domestic Violence Hotlinethe Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice, and myriad programs to train victim advocates, police officers, prosecutors and judges on gender-based violence. Since it was created, more than $7 billion in federal grants has been given to programs that prevent domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. It has also funded shelters, community programs and studies tracking violence against women.

    Addressing gender-based violence seems like it “would be a bipartisan issue,” said Carol Baldwin Moody, president and chief executive of Legal Momentum, one of the organizations that has spent the last two years drafting language for the latest reauthorization of the act.

    In the last quarter-century, as sexual violence on college campuses and harassment in the workplace have sparked widespread discussion and the #MeToo movement, the act has been changed, tweaked and fought over. Here is a look at its evolution.

    Read the full article.

  • Date: April 3, 2019 Featured In: Penn Live

    Op-Ed by Karen Baker, Chief Executive Officer of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, Richard Goldinger, President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, and  Legal Momentum Deputy Legal Director Jennifer M. Becker

     

    Send me another image, or I will send what I have to your whole school . . .

    Send me a nude photo, or I will get you in trouble with your boss . . .

    Do this sexual act, or I will evict you for being late with rent . . .

    Sext with me, and I will give extra hall passes and privileges at school . . .

    Meet up with me for sex, or I will share your photos with your wife . . .

    Do these sexual acts, and I will offer you lighter penalties for an alleged crime . . .

    Send me explicit images, and I will get you that job . . .

    Sexual extortion is a serious sex crime happening everywhere in Pennsylvania.

    Offenders target vulnerable Pennsylvanians—children, teens, and adults. Children with developmental or cognitive disabilities are often targeted, as are children who have been subjected to sexual abuse or family abuse at home. As technology advances, so do the number of victims.

    Acts of sexual extortion are not illegal in Pennsylvania, due to gaps in current law. It is time to close this loophole and pass legislation that holds offenders accountable for this devastating conduct.

    The Department of Justice refers to sexual extortion as “by far the most significantly growing threat to children” with the highest child-to-offender ratio of all child sex crimes.

    The case of Richard Finkbiner presents one example: he harmed 153 young victims and obtained 22,000 video files and 47,000 images before authorities were able to stop him.

    Cases from around the country and here in Pennsylvania show anyone can be vulnerable—not only children and teens, but also adults in vulnerable positions such as employees, tenants, victims of natural disasters, parents involved in custody cases, college students, and people dating online.

    Perpetrators abuse their power to coerce sexual acts, images, or videos from victims. It is sadly common for one offender to have hundreds of victims in our current digital age. They stalk social networking and dating sites. They hack computers and webcams.

    They create fake profiles to join a victim’s network. They manipulate and deceive to obtain images and videos of a victim and then threaten to release those images unless the victim sends them more.

    Victims are severely impacted by sexual extortion—similarly to victims of other sex crimes. They feel haunted, not knowing when or where their images will surface, or when their abuser will demand more.

    They lose concentration at school or work. They are unsafe at home, due to the offender’s relentless harassment, threats, and stalking. They fear the perpetrator will harm them or someone they love.

    And perpetrators are relentless. When one victim told her offender that his sexual extortion made her feel like killing herself, he replied, “glad I could help you out.” As explained by one 17-year-old sexual extortion victim, “I felt like I was being raped through a phone.”

    Current law focuses on extortion by theft and does not include sexual acts, images, or videos as a thing of value. Our existing laws do not adequately address sexual extortion, nor do they sufficiently address the complex ways technology facilitates these offenses.

    The end result? Prosecutors are left trying to piece together statutes that do not measure up to the full scope of these offenses. And victims are left with little to no recourse.

    These are serious offenses that must be held accountable and ultimately prevented. Whether it is a child or adult, online or in-person setting—sexual extortion always involves coercion and an intentional abuse of power that must be addressed.

    It is time to expressly criminalize sexual extortion in Pennsylvania.

    Last week, the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee convened an informational meeting on sexual extortion, where Chairman Robert Kauffman expressed his interest in prioritizing this legislation.

    The next day, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously supported a bill (Senate Bill 337: Senators Schwank & K. Ward) that would criminalize sexual extortion in Pennsylvania.

    The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association (PDAA), and Legal Momentum applaud the Chairs and members of these Committees for their leadership in prioritizing this issue.

    Recent efforts to raise awareness have brought sexual extortion out of the shadows. Since 2016, ten states have expressly criminalized sexual extortion. It is time for Pennsylvania to join as the 11th state in passing legislation.

    Pennsylvanians need this protection and a criminal justice system that can effectively hold perpetrators accountable.

    PCAR, PDAA, and Legal Momentum urge the General Assembly of Pennsylvania to pass, and Governor Wolf to sign, legislation that will criminalize sexual extortion this session.

    Karen Baker is Chief Executive Officer, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape; Richard Goldinger is president, Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, and Jennifer M. Becker is Deputy Legal Director and Senior Attorney, Legal Momentum the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.

  • Date: September 20, 2018 Featured In: The Cut

    Legal Momentum's Jennifer Becker spoke with New York Magazine's The Cut about the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Senator Dianne Feinstein's decision not to publicize the letter she received from a sexual assault survivor. 

    “At its root, sexual violence is about power and control, so for victims and survivors they often feel powerless,” Jennifer M. Becker, the deputy legal director for Legal Momentum, a women’s legal defense and education fund, told the Cut, adding that supporting survivors means helping them own their experiences on their own terms. “Respecting confidentiality is essential to doing just that. We need to always support survivors by giving them power and control over their own life experiences.”

    ...

    As an advocate for these programs, it makes sense that Feinstein would have kept Ford’s accusation confidential, even though the letter doesn’t fall under the act’s protections. “She’s been a longtime supporter of VAWA and supporting survivors of violence,” Becker said. “In that sense, she is following the best practices that are informed by years and years of advocates and experts in the field of gender-based violence, who recognize that supporting survivors means giving them the choice of whether or not their story would be publicly accessible.” 

    Read the full article.

  • Date: July 30, 2018 Featured In: WashingTech Podcast

    Deputy Legal Director and National Judicial Education Program Senior Attorney Jennifer Becker was on the WashingTECH Tech Policy Podcast with Joe Miller discussing Legal Momentum, tech and domestic violence on July 30, 2018. Jennifer discusses how abusers perpetrate domestic violence via technology, what victims can do to get help, and the need for legislators around the country to address these issues. 

    Listen here.

     

  • Date: May 10, 2018 Featured In: Orlando Sentinel

    “We don't believe that has been done before, and to my knowledge other Backpage plaintiffs have not filed RICO or Thirteenth Amendment claims,” said a spokesman for the law firm handling the suit, Boies Schiller & Flexner. One of the attorneys is Orlando-based Karen Dyer. Legal Momentum is also representing the plaintiffs.

    Read the full story.

  • Date: April 11, 2018 Featured In: The New York Times

    But advocates for child sex-trafficking victims pushed back against the idea that sites like Backpage could act as a third-party safeguard for users. Carol Robles-Román, the former chief executive and president of Legal Momentum, has documented more than three dozen news reports of people who were murdered after being listed on Backpage.

    Last year, Legal Momentum filed suit in Florida on behalf of a client who said she had been raped when she was in her 20s after being listed against her will on Backpage. “It was not safe for her,” said Ms. Robles-Román, who is now a legal adviser for anti-trafficking litigation and policy with the group. “To suggest that this is a safe vehicle is wrong.”

    Read the full article here.

  • Date: April 9, 2018 Featured In: El Diario NY

    La abogada de derechos civiles Carol Robles-Román, miembro de Legal Momentum, comentó que la legislación representa una nueva era de justicia para las víctimas del tráfico sexual en línea.

    “Como abogada que ha representado a personas victimizadas por Backpage, espero con interés una investigación federal exhaustiva de esta presunta actividad delictiva, y que los sobrevivientes finalmente tengan su merecido día en la corte”.

    Translation:

    "This DOJ enforcement action, long due, represents a new era of justice for victims of online sex trafficking. As a lawyer who has  represented persons victimized by Backpage, I look forward to a thorough federal investigation of this alleged criminal activity, and that survivors finally have their much deserved day in court." — Civil Rights Attorney Carol Robles-Román

  • Date: April 6, 2018 Featured In: Feminist Current

    An April 5 article on FeministCurrent.com, INTERVIEW: Marian Hatcher sets the record straight on the new U.S. anti-trafficking bill, SESTA-FOSTA, cites Legal Momentum’s research and provides an excellent explanation of why trafficking survivors and the organizations that represent them advocated for this new legislation.

    "Desiree would have celebrated her 18th birthday on March 29th. At 16-years-old, she was sold by a trafficker online — the john raped, beat her, and slashed her throat. She was one of at least 37 children and adults determined via statistics provided by Legal Momentum — a women’s defense and education fund in New York — to have been murdered due to sex ads placed online between 2011 and 2016."

     

  • Date: March 13, 2018 Featured In: The Recorder

    Karen Chesley of Boies Schiller Flexner, who is litigating a civil case against Backpage.com in Florida launched last year with the women’s advocacy group Legal Momentum, said fears about expansive new liability for tech companies are overblown. “It would be a tortured reading of the bill to say that accepting seemingly legitimate ads, without more, would create liability for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking,” she said.

    “That big picture, scary monster that this is just going to quell all free speech I think is frankly kind of silly,” said Carol Robles-Román, president and CEO of Legal Momentum.

    Read the full article.

  • Date: January 4, 2018 Featured In: San Francisco Chronicle

    Op-Ed by California State Senator Connie M. Leyva and Legal Momentum Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Becker

    Over the past several months, a loud national conversation has been taking place about sexual harassment and assault — in Hollywood, in business, the judiciary, and in the halls of Congress and state legislatures. The conduct revealed is not new and all stems from the same root cause — abuse of power.

    For as long as we’ve documented history, people in power have chosen to abuse it. These abuses are perpetrated in many forms, but abusing power for sexual gratification is an age-old variety. The current national conversation, the #MeToo movement, and all of the women (and men) coming forward will change nothing without meaningful channels to report and respond to these abuses of power and sexual exploitation.

    In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB500 into law. By adding just a few words to California’s extortion statute, this law will protect Californians from “sextortion” by providing a clear path to report this abuse to law enforcement and a tool for prosecutors to seek accountability from offenders. Sextortion is where the currency demanded is not money but sex or sexual images. It is, at its very core, an abuse of power. Look at the narratives being told by victims and survivors in today’s conversation about sexual harassment — sextortion is woven throughout.

    Providing tools for law enforcement is critical, as these crimes are often too difficult and painful for victims to rely solely on civil remedies. SB500 gives prosecutors a way to bring these sexual perpetrators to justice through the criminal courts.

    The problem of sextortion has proliferated in the digital age as the Internet and social media began to drive how we interact with each other. Abusers have used technology and social media — while shielded behind computer and phone screens — to create or increase their power over countless victims. These victims, disproportionately girls and women, stripped of their sense of safety and dignity, too often have suffered in silence. The perpetrators believed they were shielded from the reach of justice. We must do more to pull them from the safe haven they have enjoyed for far too long.

    SB500, championed by the bipartisan Legislative Women’s Caucus, passed both houses of the Legislature without a single “no” vote. Abuses of power in the form of sexual harassment and assault cannot be tolerated in any facet of our society. And the ability for everyone to fully engage with society in today’s world means having full and safe access to Internet technologies and social media.

    Other states have also acted recently to close legal loopholes that allowed sextortion offenders to escape accountability. In 2017, Utah, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas passed similar legislation with bipartisan support. Bills to combat sexual extortion are pending in New York, Arizona, the District of Columbia and New Jersey, and federal legislation has also been introduced with bipartisan sponsors.

    We call upon other states to follow this lead, to build upon this momentum and to update their laws to ensure abuses of power like sexual extortion do not remain hidden or go unpunished.

    State Sen. Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, authored SB500 and is vice chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus. Jennifer M. Becker is an attorney for Legal Momentum, the oldest legal advocacy group for women in the United States.

  • Date: October 18, 2017 Featured In: Reuters

    NEW YORK, Oct 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The torrent of stories of sexual harassment and assault in the wake of claims about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein could help propel campaigns to make sextortion illegal, according to activists trying to change laws in the United States.

    Sextortion - a form of extortion that involves sexual acts or images as its currency - is not recognized by criminal laws in many U.S. states and victims often have little or no recourse, experts say.

    The headlines, social media and watercooler conversations prompted by the Weinstein case are "incredibly powerful" in illustrating the extent of the problem, said Jennifer Becker, senior staff attorney with Legal Momentum, The Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund, that works to combat sextortion.

    Using hashtag #MeToo, tens of thousands of women have gone to Twitter and Facebook to recount experiences of being verbally abused, groped, molested and raped by bosses, teachers and family.

    "It's an abuse of power, and so with Harvey Weinstein as an example, it's a classic age-old case of sextortion," Becker told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

    A huge hurdle in making sextortion illegal is getting the public and lawmakers to understand its scope, she said.

    "It really had never been center stage," she said. "The more instances, the more narratives out there, it certainly helps lawmakers understand that it's something that they should prioritize."

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-4990972/Flood-sexual-harassment-claims-seen-boosting-efforts-outlaw-sextortion.html#ixzz4vrp1EPWh