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Police, MPs and women's groups are pressuring England's Home Secretary Jack Straw to allow rape victims to testify behind a screen and to avoid cross-examination about their sex lives.
The groups were moved to action by a report, released Wednesday, that showed rape rates are rising, while rape convictions are decreasing. Only 19% of all rape complaints are taken to court, and half of the defendants are later acquitted.
More than 100 MPs have signed a motion supporting court procedural reform. Straw said, "There is a great deal to do to make the system better and more sensitive to the needs of the victim. More needs to be done to protect witnesses in court. We have to get away from the hostile environment. Victims have already suffered one trial with the rape itself."
Civil liberties groups are protesting such a change, saying that while rape victims should be protected, defendants have the right to confront their accusers in court.
9/18/1997 - U.S. AIDS Research on Pregnant Women Criticized
A study by the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has drawn criticism for denying medication to some pregnant women with AIDS in Africa and Thailand.
For the past two years, researchers have studied the effects of AZT on AIDS transmission between mother and fetus. Half of the 12,211 women in seven countries got varying doses of the drug, while the other half got a placebo.
Scientists have already confirmed that AZT cuts the pregnancy transmission rate by two thirds, yet because the regimen costs about $1000 per person, researchers wanted to know if AZT would be effective in lower doses, thereby lowering the cost for third-world women.
Marcia Angell, the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, said the studies violated international standards, and compared the research to the infamous Tuskegee study, in which poor black men with syphilis were falsely told they were being treated. Helene Gayle of the CDC said that the women were fully informed of the risks, and that it was better that some women got treated than none. Without the study, none would have had access to AZT.
In the U.S., AIDS studies rarely use placebo control groups, because AIDS advocates have demanded drug therapy for all patients. Critics say that more than 1,000 babies will contract AIDS, most of which could have been prevented with AZT. If pregnant women are not treated, about 25% of the infants will get AIDS. If they get AZT, only around 8% will.
Dr. Glenda Gray, a South African pediatrician who does similar studies said that 30% of the children admitted to their wards every day have AIDS. "I've buried hundreds of children. I'm seeing their mothers die. We need to find a magic bullet for every woman in the world." She said that if the critics who do not like placebo studies and the researchers who financed the studies find that a cheaper AZT regimen is effective, they should "put their money where their mouth is" and pay for treatment for poor women.
9/18/1997 - Ireland Nominates Four Women for President
Ireland's largest political party, Fianna Fail, chose Mary AcAleese rather than former Prime Minister Albert Reynolds for their presidental candidate, resulting in an all-woman race. She joins Adi Roche, Mary Banotti and Rosemary Brown in the race, which will be decided Oct. 30.
Ireland's first woman president, Mary Robinson, resigned last week to accept a job as U.N. Human Rights Commissioner.
Between 1949 and 1995, the Japanese government sterilized 16,520 handicapped and retarded women without their consent. The government stated yesterday that it does not plan to apologize, investigate, or provide any compensation to the victims.
Sterilized handicapped women and over a dozen citizens' advocacy groups had been pressuring the Japanese government to look into the issue, but their claims were ignored until Sweden apologized last month to the 60,000 Swedes who were involuntarily sterilized in the past several decades.
Sterilization was legalized in Japan in 1948 as a way of genetically "improving" the human race by preventing some individuals from reproducing. The law, which was revoked last year, allowed doctors to sterilize mentally and physically handicapped women without their consent as long as the local government approved.
Duke University senior Heather Sue Mercer has filed suit against her University and the school's football coach for Title IX violation. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 bans sex discrimination in federally-funded education, including school athletic programs. Mercer, who had hoped to become the first female kicker for a Division I football team, alleges that she was given only a "partial" tryout for the position and was allowed to practice only with other walk-on kickers.
Mercer was a walk-on kicker for Duke in 1994 and in April 1995 competed in the annual Blue-White intrasqaud game, kicking a 28-yard, game-winning field goal for her team. Mercer alleges that, despite her success, Coach Fred Goldsmith did not allow her to compete for a position on the team in subsequent seasons and reportedly asked Mercer why she was interested in football instead of beauty pageants.
9/18/1997 - Betty Friedan in Critical Condition
Betty Friedan, a leader of the women's movement and author of the feminist classic The Feminine Mystique, is in Washington Hospital Center to have a heart valve replaced again, after it was replaced four years ago. She was listed in critical condition following her surgery.
9/18/1997 - NY Woman Raped in Park Avenue Phone Booth
A man with a razor blade raped a woman last night in a phone booth as people walked by, police reported. He is believed to have also raped another woman in the area an hour earlier.
Because the phone booth shields a person's upper body, pedestrians didn't notice that anything was wrong. The rapist attacked the woman, who had stopped to make a phone call, by grabbing her from behind, beating her with the phone, and raping and sodomizing her. One pedestrian finally stopped and shouted at the man, who fled and is still at large. The pedestrian helped the woman and called 911. A man fitting the rapist's description had threatened another woman earlier with a razor blade and raped her in an alley.
9/18/1997 - Bran May Cut Risk for Breast Cancer
In a study funded by Kellogg's and carried out by the American Health Foundation, researchers reported yesterday in Nutrition that women who eat a lot of bran may reduce their chances of getting breast cancer.
Fiber-rich wheat bran lowers estrogen levels in the blood by about 10-20%, so increasing bran intake by 10-20 grams per day "may have an important health benefit," said Dr. David Rose, the study's lead author. The National Institutes of Health reported in 1990 that lowering blood estrogen by 17% could reduce breast cancer risk by four or five times.
9/18/1997 - Lesbian Latina Wins Nomination
Margarita Lopez, the first openly lesbian Puerto Rican to run for public office in the U.S., has won the Democratic nomination for New York City's Council's District 2 seat.
Initial reports said Lopez had lost, but officials discovered they had not counted absentee, emergency, and affadavit ballots, which increased her votes.
9/17/1997 - AIDS Increasing in U.S. Women
The Centers for Disease Control report that AIDS cases among women in the U.S. are increasing faster than among men, and that heterosexual sex is now the leading cause of infection among women.
Between 1991 and 1995, the number of AIDS-infected women increased 63%, while it increased 12.8% for men. Women currently represent 19% of AIDS cases in the U.S. AIDS is spreading faster in the South, where there is currently a crack and syphilis epidemic. Addicts often trade sex for drugs and syphilis sores increase an individual's the risk of AIDS infection.
Women under 25 are 2.5 times more likely to be infected through heterosexual contact than through illicit drug use, which used to be the leading cause of AIDS infection among women. The study also found that many young women had been infected by older men, and that a large age gap makes young women less likely to insist on condom use.
Minority women have been hardest hit by AIDS. Between 1991 and 1995, the rate of AIDS infection soared from 30.1 to 50.1 for every 100,000 black women and from 17.9 percent to 23.8 cases for Hispanic women.
9/17/1997 - RU-486 Endorsed by Australian Women
A report published yesterday in the Medical Journal of Australia found that women were overwhelmingly satisfied with medical abortions using mifepristone (RU-486) and prostaglandin.
Thirty-eight women who had abortions with RU-486 and prostaglandin were surveyed, and they rated their satistaction with the process as an average of 4.5 out of 5. Of the 15 who had had surgical abortions previously, all of them preferred RU-486.
Unfortunately, the drug will remain banned in Australia as both a morning-after pill and an abortifacient. Because of a law passed last year, RU-486 cannot go through the Therapeutic Goods Aministration as it normally would. Australia's The Age says political pressure will keep the drugs from being approved by the federal Health Minister, despite the survey's positive findings.
Professor David Healy, chairman of Monash University's department of obstetrics and gynecology, said that by preventing the legalization of RU-486, the government had "damaged the health of Australian women." He said that Medicare currently pays for 75,000 surgical abortions each year, and that approval of RU-485 as at least a morning-after pill would reduce the cost of abortions. He also believes that women are entitled to have a choice between surgical and medical abortions, since both procedures are equally safe and effective.
9/17/1997 - Happy 25th Birthday, Ms.!
After a tumultous 25 years which included a 9-month suspension of publication, fights with advertisers, and ground-breaking work on unpopular topics like domestic violence, Ms. magazine is celebrating its birthday this month.
Ms. is a thick, ad-free magazine that is published 6 times a year and enjoys a circulation of 200,000. Ms. is still often the first or only major magazine to report on women's news from around the world. Ms. reporters focus on how events in the news (and events ignored by news media) impact women, such as the handover of Hong Kong and welfare reform. Ms. stories contain information on activist groups and suggest actions that individuals can take to help solve the problems, founding editor Gloria Steinem said.
Given the advances the women's movement has made, some question the necessity of a magazine like Ms. Steinem said "There's nothing I would like more than to see Ms. rendered unnecessary." Current editor in chief Marcia Ann Gillespie said "We're not home free yet. The wage gap isn't a myth. We're still trying to figure out how to gain access to certain fields of work, whether in the military or in corporations. The real truth is, if we look at Congress or the White House, we still have a long, long road ahead of us."
9/17/1997 - Safeway Supports United Farm Workers
Safeway, the nation's second-largest retail food chain, has signed an agreement with United Farm Workers supporting human rights for 20,000 California berry pickers. They join the 27 retail food companies covering 4,630 stores in 41 states and parts of Canada that currently support strawberry workers.
By signing the UFW agreement, Safeway is endorsing the rights of the workers to unionize, to bargain without discrimination, and to demand the enforcement of field and water sanitation laws. This is the first time in over 30 years that UFW and Safeway have worked together on issues concerning agricultural workers.
Investigators looking into the gang rape that occurred in an abandoned classroom last spring criticized school administrators yesterday for not acting on another teacher's advice and possibly preventing it, as well as not reporting the rape to police until a month after the girl reported it to school authorities.
Although an art teacher at August Martin High School in Queens had given several supervisors a memo stating that the empty classroom was being used for sex, three assistant principals, a dean and a custodial worker all failed to take action. In the April 16th memo, the teacher stated that she had found used condoms and a student pass dated the previous day in the locked classroom. A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped there three hours later.
Edward Stancik, the special commissioner of investigation for NYC schools, said the supervisors failed to immediately examine and secure the room, which could have prevented the assault. He is calling for the dismissal of two administrators and disciplinary actions against three others.
The four male students, charged with rape, sodomy, sexual abuse and unlawful imprisonment, have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting a hearing next month. Three of the four accused have been suspended and are taking classes through an outreach program. The fourth accused has graduated from high school and the rape victim has transferred to another school.
9/16/1997 - Wage Gap Between Women and Men Widens
After two decades of steady growth, weekly earnings for women who work full-time have dropped to just under 75% of men's earnings, down from 77% four years ago.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that between 1979 and 1993, women's earnings as a percentage of men's rose from 62% to 77%. Economists disagree on the causes of the decline.
Economist Heidi Hartman, director of the Institute for Women's Policy Research said "Anywhere from half to three quarters of the closing of the gender gap was a result of men's real wages falling ... Now men's wages are rising again, so to keep closing the gap, women's would have to be rising faster." Remarking on the widening gap between the rich and poor, she said low-skilled women are concentrated at the low end of the pay scale.
The Republican-appointed head of the Congressional Budget Office, June O'Neill, said that unskilled, unmarried mothers who have been forced off welfare are flooding the job market, thus lowering women's overall wages. Liberal economist Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute agreed, saying that the result of welfare reform has been to drive down wages for the unskilled. "We'd predicted...it would lower wages for low-wage workers as much as 12%. If the point of welfare reform was to lower wages, this is a success."
Republican candidate for Governor James Gilmore said yesterday that he supports strict parental consent laws for abortion.
Gilmore, who opposes all abortions performed after the 12th week, even in cases of rape or incest, surprised both anti-choicers and liberals with his announcement. His Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Donald Beyer, held a rally yesterday with National Abortion Rights Action League President Kate Michaelman and vowed to fight any measures that would further restrict abortion. "I have long believed that we should trust the women of Virginia to make this most difficult decision," he said.
Although currently under a temporary restraining order, Virginia has a parental notification law that does not require parents to give their permission for a minor to get an abortion. Virginia teens do not have to have parental permission or notification to obtain contraceptives.
Brenda Davis, Virginia's spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, said that Gilmore was ignoring the fact that many teenage girls have legitimate fears about telling their parents about a pregnancy, including a fear of violence. "We're asking for a public health nightmare," she said.
9/16/1997 - Gore Pledges Support for Gay and Lesbian Causes
At a National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce ceremony last night, Vice President Al Gore said that he was committed to passing an employment nondiscrimination act, increasing funding for AIDS research, and focusing more attention on hate crimes against gays and lesbians.
The crowd of about 200 was enthusiastic as Gore assured them, that as "full members of the American family," gays and lesbians would "always have a place on our agenda."
9/16/1997 - Diet Drugs Pulled From Market
Citing serious health risks, drug companies pulled two of the most popular diet drugs off the market yesterday.
The Food and Drug Administration found that Dexfenfluramine, sold as "Redux," and fenfluramine, one half of the "phen-fen" combination and sold alone as Pondimin, had caused heart lesions that could indicate weak heart valves in 30% of the patients who took the drugs. Three deaths have already been linked to the drugs. Other health problems reported include shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting, and heart murmurs. "This is one of the most serious incidents of drug injury that we've had in recent years," said Thomas J. Moore, senior fellow in health policy at George Washington University Medical Center.
Manufacturer Wyeth-Ayerst has sent letters to almost half a million physicians and pharmacists asking them to stop all prescriptions, and will put full-page notices in newspapers nationwide. They have also recalled the drugs in Mexico, Canada, and Columbia. Wyeth-Ayerst Vice President Marc Deitch estimates about 600,000 patients are currently taking one of the drugs, and 2 million others have taken them in all.
Unlike amphetamine-based diet pills, Redux and Pondimin work by altering the brain's serotonin levels to make the person feel full.
Frank Clemente of Public Citizen's Congress Watch said that this health scare should cause Congress and the public to think twice about the current FDA reform legislation, because it will give the FDA less control over companies marketing their drugs for unapproved uses.
9/15/1997 - Many Clergy Keep Distance from Promise Keepers
As the date of the Promise Keeper's rally at the Mall in Washington, D.C. approaches, many clerics are speaking out against the organization, saying they are concerned that the Promise Keepers advocate women's oppression and are too closely affiliated with the political Religious Right.
Local clergy say they're discouraging their congregations from attending, as well as offering "alternative visions" for families in the days leading up to the rally. Rev. Dan Ivins of the First Baptist Church in Silver Springs said he distrusted "any movement that would take us backward to a time when women were definitely subordinate to men."
Many varied groups such as the National Organization for Women, the National Network To End Domestic Violence, Church Women United, National Black Lesbian & Gay Leadership Forum, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, The Center for Democracy, The Feminist Majority and Equal Partners in Faith have criticized Promise Keepers. Opponents cite a hidden political agenda inherent in an organization supported by people such as Pat Robertson, president of the Christian Coalition, and James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group. Jerry Falwell, who donated $10,000 towards Operation Rescue's fine for their abortion clinic violence in 1988, is also a strong supporter. These men have also donated hundreds of staff members to Promise Keepers and also publish their books, according to NOW.
The group's leader, Bill McCartney, has also been a vocal opponent of equal rights for gays and lesbians, because they are "a group of people who don't reproduce." He also helped raise funds for the Amendment 2 campaign in Colorado, a bill intended to ban civil rights for homosexuals. Former NOW Action Vice President Rosemary Dempsey said that hate crimes against lesbians and gays "increased dramatically" after the amendment was passed. McCartney, a former Colorado University football coach, also publicly defended two accused rapists on his team in 1989. He has also supported anti-abortion violence by speaking at Operation Rescue rallies.
Many feminists criticize Promise Keepers for their stance on women's role in the family. For example, women are not allowed at rallies, except to help set up events and anointing the men's seats with oil and praying. They are only allowed inside a conference to sell Promise Keeper merchandise. Their belief that women must be kept economically dependent is constantly reiterated, according to the Washington Post. Promise Keeper speaker Tony Evans wrote in "Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper," that men had given up control of their families to their wives, and that they needed to take it back. "I'm not suggesting you ask for your role back, I'm urging you to take it back. There can be no compromise here." Emphasizing the aggressive nature of their ideology, McCartney told a rally of 39,000 clergy in 1996 that "...the fiercest fighting is just ahead...It's wartime!"
On Oct. 4, Promise Keeper leaders hope "Stand in the Gap" will be a "million man march" for Christian men, although the Mayor's Office for Emergency Preparedness estimates the number will be closer to 500,000.
Many groups are expected to stage protests at the Mall on Oct. 4th. Check out NOW's website and our website for upcoming information.
9/15/1997 - Army Toughens Women's Fitness Standards
Because Army men are "irritated" about the different physical fitness standards for men and women, the Army will toughen the women's fitness tests.
An Army investigation panel surveyed 30,000 troops over eight months and found only half the men believed women pull their weight. One of the panel's leaders, Gen. Evelyn Foote, said that the push-up and sit-up requirements especially bothered men, who "cannot accept the fact that because of gender there should be different standards."
Currently, a 25-year-old woman must do 16 push-ups, 45 sit-ups amd run two miles in 19 minutes and 36 seconds, while men must do 40 pushups, 47 sit-ups, and run the distance in 16 minutes and 36 seconds. The Army said the changes for women would be an increased number of push-ups and less time to run.
9/15/1997 - "Ellen" Wins Emmy for Coming Out Episode
"Ellen," the show that inspired controversy when the main character "came out" as a lesbian, has won an Emmy for the writing of the coming-out episode.
When accepting the award for comedy writing, Ellen DeGeneres, the lesbian actress who plays the show's lead, Ellen Morgan, dedicated the award to gay and lesbian teenagers, telling them "There's nothing wrong with you. Don't even let anybody make you feel ashamed of who you are."
Helen Hunt, who won best actress in a comedy series for "Mad About You," said she was "blown away" by DeGeneres' work in that episode, and was proud to be nominated along with her and other women.
Backstage, DeGeneres spoke seriously and lightly about her award and the larger issue of lesbians and gay men in television. "I always felt like an outsider," she said about recognized by her peers. "I never felt like part of the club." Hoping that her show will help people see that gay people are OK, she joked that "growing up, I didn't have that, gay characters. Well, Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda were lovers, but they didn't talk about it."
9/15/1997 - States Find Welfare Reform Difficult
By Oct. 1, the states are expected to have 75% of the two-parent welfare families and 25% of welfare recipients overall on work programs. Federal funding will be cut as punishment, yet only a few states are expected to meet the requirements.
For example, California only has about 20% of their two-parent families working, which can result in federal cuts of $185 million. By 2002, the states are expected to have moved half their welfare recipients into jobs, including 90% of two-parent families. Congress is blaming the states for the low success rates, while welfare reform critics say that the laws were bad to begin with, and that the welfare-to-work rules were not made clear to the states.
9/15/1997 - Miss America Focuses on AIDS, Sex Education
The new Miss America, Kate Shindle, will spend her efforts on AIDS education and making condoms available to high schoolers. Shindle, a 20-year-old student at Northwestern University, said the public needed to realize they cannot "talk kids out of having sex," but that they could "meet them where they are and talk to them about the best ways they can make their behavior safer."
A theater and sociology major, Shindle became concerned about the spread of AIDS in college when a professor and a close friend were diagnosed with HIV.
9/12/1997 - British Woman Wins Rape Suit Against Husband
A 40-year-old mother of five, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has made British legal history by suing and winning damages from her ex-husband for rape.
Her husband paid her 14,000 pounds ($23,000) last November for the 1992 rape that occurred in their former home, but the woman hasn't felt comfortable talking about it until now. She said she still feels "if he wasn't my husband he would have been put away for what he did."
Although she felt the whole thing had been a "terrible ordeal," she said "it has been worth it, especially if it helps other women." In support of civil courts, she said, "I would urge all women to use them in their fight for justice."
9/12/1997 - International Sex Ring Busted
Canadian and U.S. police broke up an international prostitution ring which had bought impoverished southeast Asian women and forced them into the sex circuit.
Following several raids in Toronto and San Jose, Calif., the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service announced Sept. 11 that they had arrested dozens of Thai and Malaysian women and several suspected leaders of the prostitution ring. The women will face prostitution charges and be deported, while the leaders are "probably looking at lengthy jail time in Canada," said RCMP Cpl. Rick Watt.
The sex ring originated in southeast Asia, where young women were sold into slavery for around $18,000. They were smuggled into North America and forced to work in brothels, massage parlors and escort agencies to pay off their "immigration debts."
The police said despite the bust and more predicted arrests, the complexities of Asian prostitution rings meant they were far from victorious.