"In a spirit of openness, we explore how we are classified, stratified, ignored and singled out under the law because of our race, sex, gender, economic class, ability, sexual identity and the multitude of labels applied to us. . . . [W]e welcome all viewpoints and ideas that are expressed with respect and collegiality. . . . [W]e are a journal that promotes living discussion."
This blog is the brainchild of the Journal of Gender, Race & Justice at the University of Iowa College of Law. It is intended as a forum for people to discuss their personal views concerning topical issues. Posts reflect the opinions of the authors and not necessarily the Board or the Student Writers as a whole. We encourage well-rounded debates and discussions.
Whitney Smith, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
During my studies of law in the Muslim world I was confronted with many social and governmental differences that had a profound effect on my appreciation for my personal liberties. The most striking and pervasive cultural difference that I experienced was the stark disparity in treatment of women in Egypt. I traveled through Cairo and Alexandria, visiting courthouses and historical areas. Women in these areas were hard to miss. Traveling in groups, women in Egypt looked like a sea of veiled shadows, floating through the streets. It was an uneasy feeling that I moved through their world as a western woman, with fewer restrictions and knowing that I could go home to the United States when I wished. I left Cairo with a heavy heart, wishing for improvement in the realm of civil rights for women in Egypt.
For the greater portion of this year Egypt has been consumed with political protests and labor strikes. With the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, Egypt gained new hope for political change and progress. I shared this hope and welcomed the thought that progress would be made. However, Amnesty International reports that female protesters were arrested, beaten, tortured, and forced to submit to “virginity tests” earlier this month.[i] For women, it seems that hopes for a “New Egypt” have been premature.
On March 9th at least 18 female protesters were arrested in Tahrir Square and transported to a military prison in Heikstep, Egypt. During this ordeal the women were beaten and given electric shocks before being strip searched and forced to undergo a virginity test. The women were stripped naked and held in a room where male soldiers took photos of their naked bodies, before being herded into a room where a male doctor examined them. The women were told that if they were not found to be virgins they would be charged with prostitution. Women who “failed” the virginity test were reported to have received additional beatings and electric shocks as they were called prostitutes.
All of the women were brought before a military court and eventually released on March 13. However, several received suspended prison sentences of one year. One woman was even convicted of “disorderly conduct, destroying private and public property, obstructing traffic and carrying weapons.”
Additionally, after the female protesters were released the Egyptian Cabinet ordered a new law criminalizing protests and strikes.[ii] The new law mandates fines and possible jail time for anyone initiating or even participating in a protest. Although the Cabinet says the law will only be enforced during times of Emergency Law, this offers little comfort as Emergency Law has been in effect in Egypt since 1981. Egypt’s Emergency Law suspends constitutional rights, legalizes censorship and extends police powers. Although the Egyptian Military claims that Emergency Law will be removed when protests end, the military has not been trustworthy thus far as proven by the recent torture of female protesters.
The hopeful who thought the revolution ended with the decline of Mubarak’s presidency are realizing that the revolution has just begun.[iii] Now under the control of the military, Egypt has simply traded the dictator for his like-minded militia. Journalist William Fisher of The Public Record explained “I know this sounds like something out of Torquemada in the 15th Century or Mengele in the 20th. But it’s neither. It’s post-Mubarak Egypt in the second decade of the 21st Century.”[iv]
Amnesty International maintains that “Women and girls must be able to express their views on the future of Egypt and protest against the government without being detained, tortured, or subjected to profoundly degrading and discriminatory treatment. The army officers tried to further humiliate the women by allowing men to watch and photograph what was happening, with the implicit threat that the women could be at further risk of harm if the photographs were made public.” Amnesty International is also demanding that “Egyptian authorities … halt the shocking and degrading treatment of women protesters [because women] fully participated in bringing change in Egypt and should not be punished for their activism.” Such action is not only demanded, it is necessary. The “New Egypt” owes such action to its mothers and daughters, who have been repressed and ignored for far too long.
-Jennifer Wang, JGRJ Student Writer 2009-10
Recently, the Department of Defense decided to stock emergency contraception to dispense to members of the military in hospitals and health clinics around the world. This occurred during the aftermath of several Bush Administration attacks women’s health, including federal regulation that gave health care workers the ability to refuse to dispense medication or provide medical care in situations that they found to be morally objectionable. This included the ability to refuse to provide reproductive health services for family planning and to rape victims.
Women serving in the military have fought long and hard battles to be recognized as equals and treated with respect and dignity. Countless women are raped and sexually harassed and have had trouble seeking support and assistance from their military counterparts. Countless rapes and instances of sexual assault occur in the military that never get reported. Women serving in the military are at an elevated risk of experiencing discrimination, outright sexual assault, and sexual harassment while serving their country. This has included the problem with disciplining men who rape women in the military, as many ignore the pleas of women who are survivors of rape and sexual harassment.
Emergency contraception, also known as the “morning after pill,” or more commonly, “Plan B,” is effective at preventing pregnancy when taken within seventy-two hours of a sexual encounter. Most physicians and much of the medical community view emergency contraception as a safe and effective way to protect women’s autonomy, particularly in situations of rape. However, certain political communities are of the opinion that emergency contraception is abortion, which is a view that has never been proven or supported by the medical community. However, emergency contraception, like abortion and other reproductive health care measures like comprehensive sex education, are under constant attack.
It is exceptionally crucial that rape victims have access to emergency contraception to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Further, since women make up a considerable amount of military personnel, and since they have historically experienced prejudice, increased levels of sexual violence, and discrimination, it is of the utmost importance that female survivors of rape and sexual assault have the critical medical treatment that emergency contraception can provide in times of crisis.
The recent decision to provide emergency contraception to women serving in the military will have a widespread effect on the status and autonomy of female troops. The policy has the potential to affect over 350,000 women, and it stands as a beneficial change to the multitude of barriers that women currently experience while serving their country. It is a policy that will undoubtedly contribute to ending gender discrimination and violence against women.
~ Laura Klever, 2006-2007 Student Writer
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in United States v. Booker that the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which had previously dictated sentence length, were no longer mandatory, but merely advisory. That decision effectively restored to judges discretion to make sentencing decisions. The Booker decision could not have come at a better time, as the judiciary is in dire need of sentencing discretion to combat legislative zeal to increase child pornography sentences. This zeal is likely a result of social pressure, both from constituents and the media.
Social pressure on legislators by their constituents is the foundation for many of the laws that are passed in the United States. Indeed, legislators’ political livelihoods depend on bolstering their image and pleasing their constituents so they will be re-elected. In this vein, few issues draw such strong emotions as the sexual abuse of our nation’s children. In 2004, Dateline began airing To Catch a Predator, a series of undercover investigations into child sex predators on the internet. While Americans were likely surprised at the number of those willing to show up on a child’s doorstep for sex (in one location, 88 men were caught in a period of only nine days), they must have been aghast at the types of people who responded: rabbi, firefighter, emergency room doctor, military personnel, special education teacher, and federal agent, among others.
The Dateline investigations’ dramatic portrayals of “an epidemic of sexual predators in our country” sparked an outpouring of concern for the safety of America’s children, motivating legislators to push for the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. This new law is to protect America’s children from sexual exploitation by “protect[ing] our children from violent crime and sexual exploitation, toughen[ing] criminal penalties for crimes against children, prevent[ing] child abuse and child pornography, and combat[ing] internet predators.” While protecting our children from harm is a noble goal, legislators may get so caught up in increasing punishments for these highly emotional and sensationalized crimes that they lose sight of the legal, though unpopular, need to protect the rights of offenders. In contrast, federal judges are not subject to the whims of society’s current “witch hunt.”
First, federal judges have lifelong tenure, which “shields judges from the political pressure that comes with periodic accountability to an electorate.” This means that judges are free to take unpopular stances and vindicate the rights of those criminals society most abhors without having to worry about keeping their jobs. It was Thomas Jefferson who declared that “nothing will contribute so much as [lifelong tenure] to that independent spirit in the judges which must be essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty.”
Second, federal judges are appointed rather than elected. So while legislators must consider how their actions on Capitol Hill will affect any attempts at re-election, judges are able to distance themselves from the pressure and hype to reflect on the rights and interests of criminals.
Lastly, the judiciary has long been criticized as isolated and “out of touch” with the real world. However, federal sentencing is an area where the legislature, not the judiciary, is “out of touch.” Representatives have recently recognized that “[j]udges engage in numerous cases regarding sexual abduction and have more experience and expertise in those cases than we do. Therefore, we should not second-guess their decisions on whether to impose a sentence that is more lenient. They see the defendant and victim, they hear the arguments and testimony, and hence, we should show deference to their rulings.”
In all, judicial discretion is essential to balance legislative zeal by holding firm in the face of social pressure and ensuring fairness in sentencing for criminal defendants, especially those charged with such unpopular and sensationalized crimes as child pornography.