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Adrienne Bak Ortolano finally received justice last week when a jury convicted Alex Kelly of raping her eleven years before. After the conviction, the 27-year-old woman gave her first interview since the rape in 1986. She came forward because she wanted to give other rape victims courage and show the world she is not ashamed of who she is. "It’s a positive feeling to be able to stand up and accuse your attacker, and to tell the truth the way it happened," she said.
In the 11 years between Kelly’s crime and conviction, Ortolano showed perseverance in fighting to put her attacker behind bars. Kelly fled to Europe in 1987 and lived as a ski bum off of his parents’ money to avoid the trial for raping Ortolano and a 17-year-old from Stamford, CT. Ortolano hired a lawyer to find her attacker in 1994, and Kelly turned himself in to the authorities the following year. She rejected offers for plea bargains in 1987 and 1996 and sat through one trial which ended in a deadlocked jury last fall. When she heard the jury pronounce Kelly "guilty" last week, she said, "The first thing I thought was thank God, thank God the world knows the truth."
6/19/1997 - Republican Tax Bill Harmful to Women
The Democratic women U.S. House of Representatives members will release a Democratic Policy Committee Report on June 19th which outlines how the Republican tax bill harms women. The report will give details on a number of issues. For example, the GOP tax bill cuts the child tax credit for six million families with child care expenses, thus penalizing working women. The GOP tax bill completely denies the child tax credit to four million children in working families receiving EITC. Two million working families will be penalized by requiring them to pay an alternative minimum tax, simply for claiming the child and/or HOPE credits.
6/19/1997 - DNA Test Links Stand-up Comic to College Rapes
Vinson Champ, a stand-up comedian who travels the college circuit, is allegedly responsible for a string of rapes across colleges in the Midwest area. DNA tests confirm that he was responsible for the sexual assault of a woman at Kenosha's Carthage College. Other DNA tests indicate that Champ was also responsible for two attacks in Iowa. On June 17, Champ was ordered to stand trial for the March 5th rape of a teacher in a University of Nebraska-Omaha computer lab.
Linda Fairstein has served as the head of the sex crimes unit at the Manhattan, NY district attorney's office for twenty-one years. In her job, she is responsible for prosecuting rapes, family violence, sexual assaults and other sex-related crimes. She says that the rewards of her work are enormous. She commented, "My work is with the victims and survivors. They do recover and being part of that process, helping them achieve justice in the system, can be a wonderfully cathartic part of the recovery. It's endlessly fascinating."
Recently, Fairstein has turned her experiences into mystery novels, featuring a smart, strong woman who also happens to run the sex crimes unit at the Manhattan DA's office. Of her protagonist, Alexandra Cooper, Fairstein says, "The character has a good sense of humor. Women people have read about my real job and come to meet me, they expect a serious or grim person. Alex Cooper…very much reflects my worldview, which is very optimistic and full of good humor." Fairstein's first book was entitled Final Jeopardy. Her newest book, recently released, Likely to Die, is based on a true event: the attempted murder of a doctor in Nashville. Fairstein sets the scene in New York City and has fictionalized the details, but she weaves in events from her own professional experience.
6/19/1997 - Lifetime Television to Air Women's Sports
Lifetime Television for Women is seeking to become the leader in women's sports broadcasting. The television network will begin televising Friday night games of the Women's National Basketball Association on June 27th. On June 19th, the network will air the second installment of a four part series of sports documentaries. The series, entitled Breaking Through, looks at the 25th anniversary of Title IX and is hosted by Geena Davis. Lifetime president Doug McCormick says that the network has a "responsibility to lead in certain areas, to help promote equality for women." He continued, "This isn't going to be a hit overnight; there's going to be somewhat of an adjustment period. But at the end of the day, we hope it's gong to attract a lot of new, younger viewers, those who have perhaps personally benefited the last 25 years from Title IX."
Lifetime has in the past sponsored the women's yachting team that competed for the America's Cup, the Colorado Silver Bullets women's baseball team, the women's national basketball team that won the 1996 Olympics, and Indianapolis 500 racecar driver Lyn St. James. Brian Donlon, who oversees the network's sports efforts, commented, "We're putting our money where our mouth is. It's not about just programming, it's about advocacy, too."
6/19/1997 - Southern Baptists Vote to Boycott Disney
The Southern Baptist Convention has voted to boycott Walt Disney Co. The boycott includes Disney theme parks and its ABC-TV subsidiary. The church is protesting what it calls Disney's "gay-friendly" policies, including Ellen's coming out on ABC. David Smith, a senior strategist for the Human Rights Campaign, commented, "Unlike the Southern Baptist Convention, most people of faith recognize that they can disagree over whether or not homosexuality is right and still agree that discrimination against gay people is wrong."
Southern Baptists will vote on June 18th on whether or not to boycott Walt Disney Co. parks and stores. Some leaders of the 15.7 million member group have been angered by what they term Disney's "gay-friendly" policies. They point to "gay day" at Disney parks, the company's extension of health benefits for partners of lesbian and gay employees, and the airing of ABC's Ellen (Disney owns ABC) in which the main character reveals that she is a lesbian. Disney officials have refused to comment but have said the company remains a leader in family entertainment.
6/18/1997 - Women's Rights Advocates Protest NRA Leader
Chanting "Tanya, Tanya, She's No Friend. She Gives Guns To Violent Men," over thirty women's rights, domestic violence, and anti-gun activists held an informational picket outside of a speech by NRA Lobbyist Tanya Metaska before the Independent Women's Forum. Metaska's new book, Safe, Not Sorry, portrays women's gun ownership as the solution to domestic violence and urges repeal of the Domestic Violence Gun Ban, which prohibits people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from possessing guns. The picket was organized by the Feminist Majority Foundation, National Network to End Domestic Violence, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Protestors outnumbered those attending Metaska's speech by about 3-1. The Independent Women's Forum is a conservative organization which receives funding from right-wing foundations.
U.S. President Bill Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, astronaut Sally Ride and Olympic Gold Medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee came together to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Title IX, the law barring sex discrimination in schools receiving federal funds. At the ceremony, President Clinton described the success women and girls have been able to achieve because of the law and commented, "[Title IX gave] them the chance to make the most of their abilities." Clinton also announced that he was broadening the reach of the law by ordering federal agencies to follow it even though some programs were not technically covered by the law.
Joyner-Kersee, who has won six track and field Olympic medals said she considered cheerleading at an early age because of the ordeal of taking a back-seat to boys' sports as a child. She commented, "I really didn't understand why the coach made the long-jump pit in his back yard." Title IX was passed when Joyner-Kersee was 10 years old; when she entered college, she was awarded a full athletic scholarship to UCLA which she attributes to Title IX.
Ride, the first woman to fly in space, said she had no scholarship to Stanford University, where she played tennis. She commented, "I would have appreciated Title IX being earlier." She attributed the growing number of women in the space program to Title IX.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Representative Charles Cannady (R-FL) have introduced legislation that would eliminate all federal affirmative action programs. The measure, deceptively titled the "Civil Rights Act of 1997," has an additional 49 House sponsors and two Senate sponsors. In a recent San Diego University commencement address, President Clinton reaffirmed his support of affirmative action programs. Clinton is expected to oppose the proposed anti-affirmative action legislation. Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) commented on the legislation, "I think the Republicans are playing with fire...[affirmative action programs have worked and] given many people who look like me an opportunity that I would not have otherwise." Jackson-Lee also noted that admissions of people of color at universities in Texas and California, where affirmative action programs were this year disbanded, have plummeted.
6/18/1997 - Army Appoints First Female Three-Star General
The Army has made Lt. General Claudia Kennedy its first female three-star general. Kennedy, an intelligence expert, will become the senior intelligence official in the Department of the Army. Kennedy joined the Army in 1969 and was assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence at the Pentagon. 8
The Good: The U.S. Supreme Court has left intact a lower court ruling that declared a Utah law banning almost all forms of abortion for women over 20 weeks pregnant unconstitutional. In December of 1996, the 10 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Utah lawmakers had placed, "an insurmountable obstacle in the path of a woman seeking a nontherapeutic abortion on a nonviable fetus after 20 weeks. It therefore imposes an unconstitutional burden on her right to choose." The Supreme Court, without comment, left the appeals court ruling intact.
The Bad: The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a Montana law banning abortions performed by licensed physician assistants. The 6-3 vote overturned a federal ruling which had blocked enforcement of the 1995 Montana law. Montana's law applied to only one person, Susan Cahill, who worked under the supervision of Dr. James Armstrong. Other states could pass similar measures. Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter and Clarence Thomas voted to uphold the law. Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented.
Women's Web World, the Feminist Majority Foundation's Online Web Site, has won the Café Underground Award for Web Excellence. The award is presented to an elite group of select sites and web-designers who have displayed and outstanding balance of graphic style, practical applications and political awareness.
6/17/1997 - Flinn Signs Book Deal
Former First Lt. Kelly Flinn, the first female B-52 pilot, has signed a deal with Random House to write a book about her life in the military, the controversy over her affair, and her subsequent general discharge from the army. Tentatively titled Proud to Be, Flinn's Air Force Academy class' motto, Harold Evans, the publisher of Random House, said in a statement that the memoir will be "...of major importance and lasting power by a remarkable woman, who was a groundbreaking pilot and a patriot. Her story of the double standard she endured and the broader implications for women both within the military and outside will prove to have widespread and deep repercussions."
Recently the U.S. Federal Drug and Food Administration ruled that morning-after birth control pills, taken as emergency contraception, are safe and effective. However, some pharmacists are refusing to fill the prescriptions for women seeking the pills. Although the American Pharmaceutical Association, with 48,000 members, supports a pharmacist's right of refusal, it also says that the pharmacist's right must not override a patient's right to treatment. Pharmacists must find some way to help the woman, either by referring her to another pharmacist within the store or refering the woman to another pharmacy.
Recently a pharmacist at Longs Pharmacy in California was reprimanded for refusing to fill a prescription for the emergency contraception to Michelle Crider, 28. Though Crider wanted a second baby, an existing medical condition made pregnancy a possibly life-endangering condition for her. Crider finally got her prescription from a nearby pharmacy, but commented, "I'm still very angry; without knowing my situation, he could have affected a huge part of my life. What if there had been no other pharmacy to go to?" Longs spokesperson Clay Selland commented, "Failure to serve a customer is at issue here. He was disciplined because he should have offered another option to the doctor. Our policy is that…he needs to send it along to another pharmacist that's on duty, to another Longs store…or refer it on to a competing pharmacy."
Japan's public health committee paved the way for the approval of the birth control by softening its negative stance on the pill's use. The committee had earlier concluded that the pill's use could help spread sexually transmitted diseases. A June 16th meeting, however, drew over 100 women supporters who criticized the committee for using the pill to push its own agenda on sexually transmitted diseases. Advocates of the pill's approval argued that the two issues must be discussed separately and that women have a right to access to the birth control pill. The committee, in essence, did not give an opinion either way on whether or not to approve the pill. Its report said that, should the pill be used, condoms should also be used. A spokesperson for a pharmaceutical firm commented, "We have progressed an important step. The committee's report can now be read as saying that it is OK to approve the pill." The committee's lack of a negative stance will aid the pill's approval by the Health Ministry's Pharmaceutical Council, the last hurdle to official approval. Japan remains the only major country in the world which bans the pill for contraceptive purposes.
LEARN MORE Click here to read women's narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.
6/16/1997 - Army to Close Sexual Harassment Hotline
The Army has announced that it will close the hotline it set up in November of 1996 to address the Aberdeen sex scandal. The hotline will close as of Friday, June 20th. The Army said it was closing the hotline because it had accomplished its job, and calls had dwindled in recent weeks. A sexual harassment and sexual abuse assistance line will supplant the hotline in 30 days or less.
MacDonald Communications Corporation announced at the 1997 Marketing to Women Congress that it will sponsor an award to companies that do an outstanding job reaching women through marketing. In the first year, the award will be given to companies in the financial, health care and automobile industries. The company will also sponsor an award to the company that best markets to women through use of the world wide web. The MacDonald Communications Corporation publishes such magazines as Working Mother, Working Woman, and Ms.
6/16/1997 - Study Shows Fewer Women Directors Hired
The Directors Guild of America's annual report shows that 91 percent of film directors hired in the United States in 1996 were men and 93 percent were white. The guild's president, Jack Shea, commented on the findings, "Employment levels for DGA women and minorities are simply unacceptable. The producers must find more effective ways to bring talented females and individuals with a diversity of ethnic backgrounds into our business." The number of days worked by DGA women declined from 22.76 percent in 1995 to 22.63 percent in 1996. The guild's vice president, Martha Coolidge, added, "These statistics are an embarrassment to our industry. It is bad enough to see how small the growth is in working days for minorities, but it is particularly disheartening to see the percentage of days worked by women actually dropping."
6/16/1997 - German Law Criminalizes Marital Rape
A law approved on June 13th in Germany makes marital rape a crime punishable by up to five years in jail. Female ministers and women's rights activists have lobbied for over 25 years to get the law changed; previously rape was a crime only when the woman was not married to her attacker. Legislators were successful in dropping a clause from the legislation which would have allowed for withdrawl of the woman's charges. Critics charged that the clause weakened the law because it allowed the husband to pressure his wife into dropping the charges. A study conducted by German authorities shows that, since 1993, 350,000 men have raped their wives.
6/13/1997 - Promise Keepers Hold No Promise for Women
On June 13th, the Feminist Majority Foundation, joining other national women's rights, religious, lesbian/gay/bisexual, and domestic violence organizations, condemned the hidden agenda of the all-male, religious right organization, the Promise Keepers. "Some reactionary male want-to-be-patriarchs -- the so-called Promise Keepers -- are preaching to football stadiums of men that men must resume their rightful place at the head of their household," said Alice Cohan, Feminist Majority Foundation Director of National Programs, "The submission of women is at the core of all these attacks on women's rights and is a backlash to the changed role of women in every facet of our society."
"Despite their best attempts to hide an anti-women, anti-abortion agenda, one must only examine the major leaders and funders of the Promise Keepers' movement to uncover their real goals. Their empires have been built on misogyny, not 'brotherly love.' Pat Robertson, the religious right media mogul and founder of the Christian Coalition, provides major coverage of the Promise Keepers through the 700 Club. James Dobson, whose organization Focus on the Family is one of the largest religious right entities in the country, kept Promise Keepers afloat financially in the early years. Bill Bright's Campus Crusade for Christ empire has lent at least 85 full-time staffers to Promise Keepers' national headquarters in Colorado. Another leading supporter is Gary Bauer, head of the anti-abortion and anti-lesbian/gay Family Research Council," said Cohan.
Serving as Promise Keepers National Spokesperson is Mark DeMoss of the DeMoss family, whose foundation pours millions of dollars into religious right causes including the anti-abortion Life, What A Beautiful Choice advertisements. Finally, there is Bill McCartney, former football coach and founder of Promise Keepers. McCartney is militantly opposed to women's reproductive freedom, and has been a featured speaker at events of the anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue. During an Operation Rescue rally, which was trying to close a local women's clinic, McCartney declared that abortion had become 'a second Civil War.'
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has appointed Irish President Mary Robinson to serve as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Robinson, who will end a seven-year term as Ireland's head of state in December, will travel to New York in July to begin discussions on her post, which is based in Geneva. The United Nations begins its annual General Assembly at the end of September.
Planned Parenthood of Virginia, along with four other state Planned Parenthood affiliates, three health clinics and two physicians, has filed suit claiming that Virginia's new parental consent law is unconstitutional. The parental consent law requires girls under the age of 18 to notify a parent at least 24 hours before obtaining an abortion. The law is scheduled to take effect on July 1st. The groups are claiming that law denies young girls their privacy and due process rights. Simon Heller, a lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy of New York commented on the lawsuit, "In its eagerness to limit access to abortion services, the Virginia legislature has trampled on the constitutional rights of young women. The majority of young women already involve their parents without the government's interference. Forcing the others to do so will have dire consequences."
For eight years Alex Kelly lived in Europe, off his wealthy parent's money, avoiding a United States trial for raping two women. On June 12th, a Connecticut jury convicted him of raping a girl over a decade ago. Kelly turned himself in to authorities in Switzerland in 1995 when authorities closed in on his location and his passport was close to expiring. A 1996 rape trial ended in a 4-2 deadlocked jury in favor of conviction.
The 1997 jury's foreman Robert Derleth said of the conviction, "We just reviewed the evidence and the evidence spoke for itself." The husband of the women who was raped read a statement on her behalf, "I am grateful that the jury was able to focus on the truth, and hope that what I have done will help other women who have been raped to obtain justice."
Kelly's lawyer promised to appeal and commented, "I consider this just a chapter in this long litigation." Kelly could face 20 years in prison; he will be sentenced on July 24th. He also faces another trial in the case of a second woman who accused him of rape four days after the first accuser came forward.
A federal judge has convicted Reverend Norman Weslin, the head of the so-called Lambs of Christ, and ten other of the group's members of blocking entrances at a Planned Parenthood in Rochester, New York. Wesson and three others were sentenced to four months in jail from U.S. District Judge David G. Larimer. Four others were placed on four months of supervised release and required to do 120 hours of community service. The defendants had, on December 7, 1996, resorted to super gluing the entrance of the clinic, and entangling themselves in a device called a "stove" to block the entrance. The bench trial of the defendants is first in New York tried under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.