Friday, July 5, 2019
By Julie Bosman
This week, it was a New Jersey teenager identified in court documents only as G.M.C., who prosecutors said raped an intoxicated 16-year-old girl at a party, made a cellphone video of the act and then shared the video with friends, adding: “When your first time having sex was rape.”
The judge dismissed the young man’s own description of what he did. Instead, court documents said, the judge wondered if the accuser and her mother had considered the devastating effect on the boy’s life this charge might have. The boy “comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well,” the judge said, noting that the young man was an Eagle Scout.
“He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college,” Judge James Troiano of Superior Court, sitting in Monmouth County, said last year.
As Judge Troiano’s comments became widely known to the public this week, they were met with outrage and calls for him to be barred from the bench. But there was also widespread frustration that variations of the same scenario seem to play out on a loop in the nation’s criminal justice system, allowing people with markers of privilege — whether in education, wealth or race — to be given light treatment, probation or short sentences.As Josie Duffy Rice, a host of a “Justice in America” podcast, wrote on Twitter, “These stories epitomize the reasons women often choose not to report their sexual assault. In a system like this, with judges like these, in a world that prioritizes men’s potential over women’s lived experiences — why would you?”Judge Troiano was no rogue judge, experts in criminal justice said, and the sentiments he voiced in court — expressing concern for the future prospects of the accused, while glossing over harm inflicted on the victim — were not particularly extraordinary.“He is not an appalling outlier,” said Deborah Tuerkheimer, a professor at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law who has studied sexual violence. “He gave voice to something that is woven into the fabric of our culture. There’s a longstanding tradition of trivializing harm to victims of sexual assault and focusing instead on harm to perpetrators.”
Professor Tuerkheimer calls the phenomenon the “care gap,” in which “there’s a lot of space between the care, the attention, the pull on our heartstrings that we all tend to give to accused men, particularly when they’re privileged,” rather than to the women who are victims of sexual violence.
Other high-profile cases that have attracted media attention in recent years fit a similar pattern and have prompted nationwide calls for sentencing reform.
Brock Turner, a former swimmer at Stanford University, was accused of sexually assaulting a woman after a party and convicted on charges of sexual assault of an unconscious person, sexual assault of an intoxicated person and sexual assault with intent to commit rape.
He was sentenced to six months in jail and three years’ probation in 2016, and was released from jail after three months. The judge, facing a furious outcry over the sentence, was recalled last year by California voters.
Owen Labrie, once a student at the exclusive St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, was convicted in 2015 of sexually assaulting a classmate during a “senior salute,” a campus ritual in which seniors met younger students for romantic encounters before graduation. Mr. Labrie, then 18, invited a 15-year-old girl to a rooftop, where she said he raped her.
He was released early from jail for good behavior last month after serving six months.
Then there was Ethan Couch, a Texas teenager who killed four people and severely injured another while driving drunk in June 2016. Prosecutors sought a 20-year prison sentence, but a psychologist who testified in Mr. Couch’s defense argued that he suffered from “affluenza,” psychological afflictions said to result from growing up with wealth and privilege.
Mr. Couch served a 720-day sentence in a Texas jail, a penalty that one victim’s family said was lenient and influenced by the wealth of Mr. Couch’s family.
In the New Jersey case that drew anger, the judge involved was rebuked by an appeals court for his handling of the accusation of rape, and the case will be moved to a grand jury.
“That the juvenile came from a good family and had good test scores we assume would not condemn the juveniles who do not come from good families and do not have good test scores from withstanding waiver application,” the panel wrote in its decision. Judge Troiano is retired but occasionally fills vacancies on the bench.Elizabeth L. Jeglic, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that the case could reflect a common sentiment in criminal sentencing, in which people sympathize with other people who are similar to them.“Maybe the judge identified with this family or individual,” she said. “People are subject to biases. Wealth does influence sentencing, as well as race and class. It’s not usually as obvious as it is in these cases.”Research has shown that African-Americans receive longer sentences than white people, she said, and that judges often rely too heavily on their own intuition when making decisions.
“My take home from this is that this is obviously egregious,” Professor Jeglic said. “But it’s the perfect timing for it, as we are now having conversations about criminal justice reform, and part of that conversation is sentencing.”
Too many sexual assault cases are clouded by a judge’s consideration of a defendant’s background and upbringing, said Laura Palumbo, a spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, a nonprofit based in Pennsylvania that compiles data on sexual assault.
“There is a common thread here, and that is that the actions of some are not to be put in the same category as others,” Ms. Palumbo said, “or that someone’s behavior is not as serious or harmful because of their perceived character.”
Faced with changing attitudes, tightening regulations and a booming online pornography industry, strip clubs are closing across the US. Sex may still sell in magazines and movies, but are American strip clubs a dying institution, asks Jonathan Berr.
"Can you imagine a boss telling a secretary to make an appointment at a strip club?"
These days, few executives would be willing to risk possibly losing their jobs and the resulting personal humiliation by seeking reimbursement from their employers for an outing at a strip club. But strip club operator Alan Markovitz said such calls were typical in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Mr Markovitz, a Michigan entrepreneur who has strip club operations in four states, told the BBC he would routinely get notified that a powerful executive was arriving to make sure that they got good seats.
"That was the norm back then," he said.
During the industry's heyday, customers weren't so timid. Strip club operators would even play along, using innocuous-sounding names on their credit card slips to avoid suspicion.Indeed, strip club outings were tolerated on Wall Street and in other industries for years until female employees filed suit against their employers earlier in the decade and won tens of millions in lawsuits.
In addition, the industry is facing some punishing economic trends including a declining customer base, an abundance of free internet pornography and rising employee costs.
At live adult entertainment venues, selling sex it isn't nearly as profitable as it used to be.
Data from market research group IBISWorld estimates profit slumped more than 12% to $1.4bn (£1.2) in 2018, down from $1.6bn in 2012. Sales during that same time period plunged about 7% to $6.9bn from $7.4bn.Annual revenue growth at US strip clubs was 4.9% between 2012 and 2017, slowing to 1.9% from 2013 to 2018 and is projected to fall to 1.7% by 2023, according to IBISWorld.
The number of strip clubs has also declined in recent years in major US cities and their surrounding suburbs.
In New York City, tightening regulations may force more than half of the Big Apple's 20 joints out of business, according to the New York Post. The number of strip clubs in Atlanta has dropped from 45 to 30 in the last 10 years, according to Alan Begner, an attorney who represents strip clubs.
Some operators are being forced out by landlords while others are facing new bans on nude dancing in clubs which serve alcohol, where they get most of their profits, Mr Begner said.
Strip club owners are also facing federal class action lawsuit brought by dancers demanding to be classified as employees as opposed to independent contractors under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
"That changes the game for a strip club operator," said Corey D. Silverstein, an attorney based in Bingham Hills, Michigan, who represents Mr Markovitz and other operators. "Now you are talking about having to comply with various state and federal employment laws. And on top of all of that having to pay benefits and (having to) treat all employees equally. It's a mess."
According to Crissa Parker, a stripper whose app called The Dancer's Resource allows dancers to warn others about conditions at clubs, performers also aren't benefiting from the increased legal protections and are seeing their incomes fall.
The changes add unwelcome stress for the many performers who hold other jobs like teaching and strip as a side job to make ends meet.
"You would never know that because they don't want to be judged due to the stigma," she said. "No one makes the same amount they made five years ago. The price of a dance has never changed. It's always been $20 regardless of the cost of living, house fees and whatever else you have got going on."
Strip clubs have also lost their cool among younger consumers. With some clubs stuck in the Mad Men era, young people are choosing to stay home where they have easy access to internet pornography.
"The Baby Boomers are retiring. They were for 20 years an amazing customer base," Mr Markovitz said. "The millennials are not coming to the strip clubs that much. That's the issue. "
For one thing, many millennials can't afford to party at strip clubs. As CNBC noted, they have an average of $36,000 in personal debt excluding mortgages. Even those young consumers that can afford to patronize the clubs are taking a pass. But it's probably not the nudity that is turning millennials off of strip joints.
A 2014 survey by women's magazine Cosmopolitan, found that 89% of respondents - who had an average age of 21 - had taken nude pictures of themselves. Only 14% said they regretted doing so.
However, Vice pointed out many millennial grooms feel uncomfortable being around strippers and would prefer to bond with their buddies over a game of laser tag or by organising trips.
Kailin Moon, owner of New York's Rosewood Theater, a high-end gentlemen's club, argues that most adult entertainment venues have failed to keep up with the times. He prides himself in offering customers an experience lacking what he calls a "strip club vibe" without stripper poles. Performers are dressed in cocktail attire and are referred to as "atmospheric models."
But whatever the fate of strip clubs, pole dancing is showing its stamina.
Beyond the backlit interiors of strip joints, pole dancing has entered the mainstream, in the form of fitness classes.
Pole dancing was this dirty little secret," said Devon Williams, the owner of Pole Pressure, a fitness studio in Washington, DC.
Now, "part of the stigma is going away", she said. "People want to get fit in alternative ways."
Using pole dancing to stay fit
Pole Pressure offers 35 classes every week that emphasize both strength and body confidence. Ms Williams says the studio's Washington location guarantees a wide variety of clients: former strippers, lawyers, judges and babysitters."You can get any kind of person and they're just a person who loves the pole," she said.And Ms Williams said she still gets calls every week from women recently hired as strippers, looking to improve their skills. For her, strip clubs may be on the decline but there is no shame around its signature dance."If someone were to call me a stripper I'd say thank you," Ms Williams said. "That means I'm confident and strong and it looks like I know what I'm doing."
"People are finding their best lives upside down."
High walls around the neighborhoods of Pakistan’s embattled Hazara community in the southwestern city of Quetta are designed to protect them from extremist militants, but also serve as a constant reminder of the threat they face.Soldiers and security checkpoints greet visitors to Hazara Town, one of two large guarded neighborhoods in the capital of Baluchistan, a province where religious and sectarian groups often target the mostly Shia Hazaras with bombs and guns.
Despite improved security in recent years, partly because most Hazaras have moved into the guarded enclaves, hardline Sunni militants keep up attacks, such as a blast in April that killed 24 people, among them eight Hazaras.“We are living under siege for more than 1-1/2 decades due to sectarian attacks,” said Sardar Sahil, a Hazara lawyer and rights activist.“Though all these checkposts were established for our security, we feel we were ourselves also cut off from other communities.”
Sahil carries a pistol whenever he leaves home, and relies on his faith as a second layer of security.
“I kiss my mother’s hand and she kisses me too and says goodbye with her prayers and good wishes,” Sahil told Reuters at his home.
Hazaras, said to be descendants of the Mongols who swept out of central Asia to rule the subcontinent for many centuries, are easily distinguishable in Pakistan by their facial features.
That has made them vulnerable to attacks by groups such as Pakistan’s banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and Sunni militant group Islamic State, which has attacked them in both Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, also home to many Hazaras.
Many community businesses that flourished in Quetta’s bustling wholesale markets have shuttered and relocated to Hazara Town or Mari Abad, another Hazara neighborhood.But the community is defiant. Some still venture out into Quetta in search of work, while others keep businesses running.The Quetta community held its first Hazara Culture Day this week to celebrate and showcase its history, music and traditions.The community strives to keep its protests peaceful, despite unrest stirred up by militants looking to pit people of different sects against each other, said Abdul Khaliq Hazara, chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), which has two provincial assembly representatives.
Domestic media often portray the Hazaras as targets of sectarian attacks or holding sit-ins to demand greater protection, but the community is developing and growing, said martial arts specialist Nargis Hazara.
“Every one of us has a dream, a target and aim in our heart, to change the image of Hazaras in the world, and especially in Pakistan,” added the 20-year-old who last year became Pakistan’s first winner of an Asian Games medal in karate.
Many Hazaras have joined the armed forces in Pakistan, where the community’s past and future will stay rooted despite any violence, said another martial arts expert, Mubarak Ali Shan.
“We want to serve Pakistan and despite suffering tragedies and incidents, our love for peace has not diminished,” he added.
–PPP chief says his party would initiate a countrywide mass contact drive to ‘expose the government’
–Says 18th Amendment is being targetted by certain quarters
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Friday lashed out at ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), saying the current political climate in the country due to the government’s policies is a ‘reversal of democracy’.
Addressing a press conference in Peshawar, the PPP chairman said, “We are on a reverse course. Today, people and media do not have as much freedom as they did during the tenure of the PPP,” he said.
He said his party would initiate a countrywide mass contact drive to “expose the government” as people will have to struggle for their democratic, human and economic rights.
He also criticised the government for acting like an opposition, saying who will rule the country if the government and the opposition were both acting like an opposition.
He also took credit for the successful transition of charge from one civilian government to another. He credited the PPP for the transition and said that it was a success [of democratic parties] that the parliament remained intact.
He said a weak parliamentary system that’s working is still a success of democracy. He regretted that the country was facing hardships because individuals were being focused on instead of institutions.
“If a free and fair election is not held, people lose hope in the democratic order and let their anger out in other forms, which are harmful to the society,” he warned.
He further said that his mother, Benazir Bhutto, had struggled for 30 years to restore the 1973 Constitution in its original spirit and the PPP had managed to fulfill her vision in the shape of the 18th Constitutional Amendment.
The PPP chairman added that the amendment was now being targeted as some quarters were making efforts to reverse it. “Our selected prime minister issues statements against the 18th Amendment,” he said.
The PPP will not compromise on the 1973 Constitution and the 18th Amendment, he said, adding, “You can send my entire family and the entire party to jail but our struggle will continue.”
“The PPP believes that democracy is the solution of all issues,” he said, adding that he believes society needs an atmosphere of political freedom.