Standing Up For The Victims

Stop Rape Now

By Amy Paulin

I wrote an op-ed piece for The Journal News that appeared over the weekend. The piece is about a Westchester resident who was allegedly assaulted at The University of Stony Brook. Here are my thoughts about her experience and the legislation I have proposed to help her and future victims:

It’s been more than 40 years since I was sexually assaulted and the image of my attacker remains with me.

I can still see his face and the details of that horrendous experience are etched in my mind.  I am adult now and logically I know this man can no longer hurt me. Yet the idea of having to face the predator who assaulted me continues to terrify me in ways that most people can never imagine.

So it was as if my heart stopped beating when I saw the headline, “SUNY grad says school made her prosecute her own sex attacker” on the front page of The Journal News.  Sarah Tubbs, a Montrose resident, attended the State University at Stony Brook on Long island. She was allegedly sexually assaulted on campus then required to prosecute the alleged attacker herself at a university disciplinary hearing.  She had initiated a disciplinary action because campus police had advised her that she didn’t have a case.  Sarah is now suing Stony Brook to have its practice of having sexual assault victims “prosecute their own cases and cross-examine and be cross-examined by their assailants” abolished and for damages.

The thought of Sarah having not only to confront her alleged assailant but also to act as both prosecutor and defendant is disconcerting as well as infuriating.  It flies in the face of everything we have learned and know about sexual assault and helping survivors of sexual assault.

Whether Stony Brook has abolished or will abolish this abhorrent practice remains to be seen. The Journal News reported that the university declined to comment on the issue.

I am calling on Stony Brook and every other college and university in New York State to strike down this policy and remove it from their respective student handbooks.  Such a policy has no place in any code of conduct.

Although the State Universities of New York adopted, at Governor Cuomo’s urging, a stricter sexual assault policy last December, Sarah’s alleged attack occurred in January 2014. Sarah wants to make sure the SUNY policy expressly prohibits victims being forced to prosecute their attackers at student disciplinary hearings.

My heart goes out to this young woman and to every other woman or man who has been forced to confront the predator who has forever changed their lives.  We must remember, whether it’s in society or on campus, to protect the one who has been attacked, not just the alleged attacker.

I have introduced legislation (A.5400) that requires college campuses to adopt policies and procedures concerning sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, involving on and off campus students. The policies must include a definition of affirmative consent (note a person cannot consent if incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs), and victim-centered protocols that cover the initial response by the school to a report of an incident and investigating and adjudicating the report. Colleges would also be required to implement comprehensive prevention and outreach programs addressing sexual violence and, where feasible, enter into agreements or collaborative partnerships with existing on-campus and community-based organizations, including rape crisis centers, to refer students for assistance or make services available to students.

Stories of sexual assault on college campuses have become all too familiar and the statistics often cited are chilling.  According to the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, at least 1 in 4 college women will be the victim of a sexual assault during her academic career.

The Department of Justice reported in 2007 that 1 in 5 women are targets of attempted or completed sexual assault while they are college students, compared to about 1 in 16 college men.  A 2014 White House Task Force reported that many victims report they are sexually abused while drugged, drunk, passed out, or otherwise incapacitated.

Yet less than five percent of rapes and attempted rapes of college students are reported to campus authorities or law enforcement according to the National Institute of Justice.

Rather than accept these statistics as the norm, we must compel colleges to establish clearer policies and procedures regarding the handling of reports of sexual assault and the treatment of sexual assault victims while safeguarding the rights and privacy of both accused and accuser.

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to pursue any action, whether through the courts or through an academic disciplinary process, against the person who has sexually assaulted you.  We, collectively, have an obligation to ensure that when that decision is made, the report of sexual assault is properly investigated, a fair adjudication process is maintained, and the victim is treated with sensitivity and respect.

I was a victim and time, according to some, heals all wounds. Some wounds, though, don’t go away. And if four decades haven’t changed how I feel about confronting my attacker, how must Sarah Tubbs have felt just months removed from her alleged assault.

Amy Paulin is a member of the New York State Assembly.

Fighting Human Trafficking in New York State

End Human Trafficking NowBy Amy Paulin

Born and raised in New York City, Brianna was nine when she was kidnapped and raped by her school janitor and sold to a pimp. Bounced from trafficker to trafficker, she was sold for sex to men who knew her age. When she was not servicing men, she was locked in a closet in a house without electricity or running water. Brianna is a victim of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a horrible $32 billion industry. In 2013, approximately 27 million people were trafficked, 80% of whom were women and girls. The average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is thirteen, with more than 100,000 youth sexually exploited each year. New York is a leading entry, transit and destination point for trafficking victims, with young people sexually exploited right here in Westchester County. Nearly 60 minors have been identified in the past 18 months by Westchester DSS as sex trafficking victims. The majority are from lower Westchester.

New York has led the nation in efforts to end human trafficking, treating the sexually exploited as victims, not criminals, and providing them with critical services to rebuild their lives. But there is more work to be done. We must hold accountable those that perpetuate this evil – the traffickers and buyers who fuel the growth of this massive underground industry. That is why I continue to push to enact the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA,A.506/S.7), a comprehensive bill I authored that will improve upon current law, strengthening our States response to human trafficking, by including the stiffening of penalties for traffickers and enabling law enforcement to conduct better surveillance of traffickers.

The TVPJA has bipartisan support in both houses and is backed by major womens groups, including NOW New York, Womens City Club of NY, Sanctuary for Families, and the 110+ organizations comprising the NYS Anti-Trafficking Coalition, including Westchester groups such as My SistersPlace, Pace Womens Justice Center, and YWCA of White Plains & Central Westchester.

Yet this common sense, bipartisan-backed legislation has been stuck in neutral for two years due to Albany politics. 

In 2013, TVPJA became a part of the Governors 10-point agenda, the Womens Equality Act (WEA). The State Assembly passed all 10 points as a package in both the 2013 and 2014 sessions, but the State Senate did not. Instead, the Senate passed 9 points as individual bills leaving out the component that would codify Roe v. Wade. The State Senate refused to pass all 10 components of WEA as a package and the State Assembly refused to pass the bills individually. Sadly, my bill has been stuck in stalemate. Yet, the State Assembly did vote on one part of the WEA as a separate bill that strengthened orders of protection laws for domestic violence victims, and that bill did eventually become law.

So at the beginning of 2015, we are starting where we left off last year. The State Senate has already passed 8 components of the WEA as individual bills, including TVPJA, and again leaving out the codification of Roe v. Wade. Now the State Assembly must decide whether it will allow the WEA to be voted on as individual bills. Meanwhile, with TVPJA still just a bill, we have not provided law enforcement with all the tools needed to fight human trafficking.

I have spent my entire political (and nonpolitical) career fighting for women’s rights and continue to be a staunch supporter of the WEA. At the same time, I recognize that we have the opportunity to strengthen womens rights in so many important areas such as sexual harassment in the workplace, pay equity, family status discrimination, and pregnancy discrimination, as well as to end the victimization of women and children from human trafficking, by passing each of the bills.

I remain hopeful that politics can be put aside, so that we will soon enact into law the WEA measures, including my human trafficking bill, that will improve the lives of women in this State.

Amy Paulin serves in the New York State Assembly.

Trust in the Time of Silver

Sheldon Silver CapitolBy Noam Bramson

I had one conversation with Shelly Silver. It was 2002. I’d just won a Democratic primary for the New York State Assembly in which the Speaker had backed my opponent. Meeting Mr. Silver at his office in lower Manhattan, I made an pitch for his support in the November general. The pitch fell short, and, two months later, so did my campaign. In retrospect, I dodged a bullet — much happier serving as mayor of New Rochelle than I would have been as a legislator in Albany.

Given this tenuous connection, I can’t really claim that the news of the Speaker’s arrest on corruption charges hit me in any personal way. But I still find the whole thing horribly upsetting.

Time to insert the usual caveats. In America, we are innocent until proven guilty. The Speaker has been accused, not convicted. He is entitled to his day in court. And it’s a good idea to suspend judgment on any subject until you’ve heard both sides. Maybe when everything is aired out, things won’t look so bad.

But, man, they sure look bad right now. If even a fraction of the U.S. Attorney’s claims are accurate, the Speaker constructed and concealed a web of business and legal relationships aimed at converting his public position into personal riches.

No comment is needed on the self-evident illegality, immorality, and general awfulness of the alleged arrangement – all that’s obvious. What concerns me even more is that episodes like this inevitably tarnish the whole enterprise of government. They feed a widespread perception that legislatures, city halls, and executive mansions are populated by crooks, that public action is routinely warped by the hidden motive of private gain, and that politicians as a breed are congenital liars.

When basic trust is gone, why bother voting? Why care about public debates? Why allow yourself to be inspired? It’ll only make the inevitable disappointment that much more painful.

So let me mount a brief, heartfelt defense of my chosen profession, during a week when it really needs one.

This is not a naive, blind defense; human failings are rampant in politics, like in every other field. At one time or another, I have been angry with, exasperated by, or directed fantasies of minor injury toward just about every politician I know personally. (Those feelings are surely mutual.)

But many are truly admirable in their character, intelligence, drive, and ability. And even the clunkers who may be dumb as posts, or timid as mice, or abrasive as sandpaper, are almost always in politics because they really believe in something. They toil away in mainly unglamorous positions, often making financial or family sacrifices, because they have a rough sense, sometimes justified, sometimes deluded, that they can make a positive contribution.

And the overwhelming majority, from the most talented to the least, are honest.

It’s admittedly hard to tell from the headlines, especially out of Albany, but political corruption of the cash-in-envelope variety is rare, probably rarer today than at any time in American history. (The perfectly legal, institutional corruption of the campaign finance system is another story.)

Does this somehow excuse or mitigate the instances of corruption that do exist? Not for a second. In fact, the broader damage done to public confidence makes these corrupt practices even more contemptible. Throw the book at ‘em.

My plea is simply this: leave some room for trust. It can be cautious, it can be provisional, it can be limited to those who have proven worthy. But, somehow, make a place for it. Trust is worth the risk of disappointment. And the collapse of trust is a much bigger threat to our Republic than a hundred sleazy pols on the take.

Noam Bramson is the Mayor of New Rochelle, New York.

The Prosecution of Speaker Sheldon Silver

Sheldon SilverThe Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver – one of the most powerful politicians in New York State over the past two decades – was arrested today. Silver is being prosecuted for bribes and kickbacks for which he allegedly received about $4 to $5 million in payoffs for “no-show” legal positions. Here is a quick summary of the charges:

  1. Silver persuaded developers doing business with New York State to hire a real estate law firm run by a former aide, and the firm then paid Silver $700,000 in legal fees, despite the fact that he did no legal work for clients.
  2. Silver directed $500,000 in state money to a doctor, who then sent asbestos victims to law firms proving alleged legal positions to Silver. Silver enjoyed $1.4 million in salary and $3.9 million in referral fees at the firms, despite never performing any legal work whatsoever.

We remind our readers that Silver is innocent to proven guilty, but he faces a 35 page, detailed criminal complaint with five counts of violations of federal law. Here is the criminal complaint: Silver Criminal Complaint

The word from Albany today was it was like a “thunderbolt” crashed into the State Assembly. Questions like “will Silver resign” and “who will replace him as speaker” were the topics of every conversation. Silver will get his due process and wage a vigorous defense, so you can expect this prosecution to take some time. And remember Joe Bruno, the New York State Senate leader – he was charged with similar crimes, battled the prosecutors every step of the way and was eventually vindicated. The Silver prosecution will provide interesting legal and political theater in the months and probably years to come.

Jim Maisano
Jim@FreeVoter.com

(Jim serves as a Westchester County Legislator).

Race, Rhetoric and Rational Reform

unnamedBy John Verni

The murder of two NYC police officers by a black man to avenge the death of two black men at the hands of the police is the latest tragedy in a recent deterioration in race relations in this country. The rhetoric has been heated over the last few weeks between the politicians, the protestors, the police unions, and the press. The root causes of the tensions between the police and the minority community are many and complex and not easily solved. But where does all this rhetoric get us? Where do we go from here? Are there any rational reforms that can be made?

The sparks that lit the recent fire were the decisions of the grand juries not to indicted the police officers in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. In both cases there were claims of an inherent bias that the prosecutors who presented the cases to the Grand Jury have in favor of the police officers they work with everyday. Any “no true bill” therefore becomes suspect. There have been calls for an independent prosecutor in such cases.

In New York, Attorney General Eric Scheiderman has suggested that he should be that independent prosecutor. This is a terrible idea on many levels. In general, we do not want an Attorney General who is subject to the political pressures of facing the electorate every 4 years to be deciding cases based upon political winds, not the rule of law. Such a structure would lead to mob rule with facts decided based on the volume in the public square rather than the facts presented in a courtroom. A Special Prosecutor’s Office, as we have seen in the past, is also subject to the same politics in selection and decision-making, and is ultimately second-guessed by the public.

Rational Reform

The answer is the Appellate Division. The Appellate Division in the State of New York was established under the New York State Constitution to be both the first court of appellate review and a court with certain de novo review powers meaning it can return cases to lower courts and other government entities for further fact-finding.

A rational reform would require any Grand Jury proceeding involving the death of a citizen at the hands of the police to be immediately reviewed by the Appellate Division. Normally, once a “no true bill” is voted, the case is over and not appealable. As we have seen, such a “no true bill” leads to these calls of a conflict in interest between the prosecutors and the police which in turn can remain to simmer with no adequate channel for review or redress. Under this proposal, the case would be presented by the District Attorney’s Office to a Grand Jury and immediately reviewed by the Appellate Division before a final decision either way can be delivered. If the Appellate Division deems necessary, the case can even be sent back for further fact finding or different instructions on the law.

The Appellate Division courts in New York State are courts in which a five judge panel reviews the evidence and the law and either upholds or overturns the lower court, or in this case the Grand Jury’s decision. The judges of the Appellate Division are judges serving 14 year terms and then chosen for the Appellate Division after going through a judicial screening committee and being referred to the Governor for selection. These are the most experienced judges in the state and are much more removed from the political process than the Attorney General. The Appellate Division is therefore much more likely to decide cases based upon the facts and the law rather than politics.

John Verni is host of “Stuck in the Middle”, a local radio show on WVOX discussing politics from “middle of the road.” John is an attorney, a former assistant district attorney in Westchester County, and a senior legal correspondent for WVOX.

Let’s Honor Murdered Cops And Avoid Divisive War Of Words

nypdBy Jim Cavanaugh

The best thing our civic leaders – both elected and self-appointed — can do to honor the two New York City police officers who were murdered yesterday is to impose a self-moratorium on agenda-driven rhetoric while the City grieves and pays these officers the respect they deserve. They should focus on the officers and their sacrifice, and take time off from their increasingly divisive war of words.

But they can’t help themselves.

Today a local Congressman is on the air saying this is what happens when people start criticizing the police. A potential presidential candidate tweeted that the murder is the result of the atmosphere created by Mayor DeBlasio and the protesters.

Simple statements from politicians who want us to believe there are simple answers. There aren’t.

The gunman seems to be a career criminal of the type that should have been removed from the streets long ago. Before he murdered the police officers he also tried to kill a former girlfriend. He may have said the murder of the officers was in retribution for Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but the fact is that he was a repeat felon from way back. He didn’t need reasons to harm people. He just did.

At a time when one-third of all Americans have a documented brush with the law, we should be asking why this guy was still walking around when we spend so much time and effort to lock up non-violent offenders, drug addicts, and juveniles.  If our criminal justice was better focused, then police would be safer, along with the rest of us.

Those who use yesterday’s tragic murders to condemn those who have questioned police tactics in recent months are no more helpful than the Ferguson or Staten Island protesters who claim cops are institutionally racist. They might score points with their followers, but they lead us no closer to bridging the gap that still divides the races in America.

And what about the Eric Garner case? The public seems to have it right even if the headline-grabbers don’t. Sixty percent of New Yorkers think the police mishandled the Eric Garner incident – to the extent that they believe some sort of charges were warranted. But a majority is also sick of the protesters shutting down streets, and they don’t agree with demonizing the police department as racist. They have far more respect for the difficult job these men and women accomplish than do the protesters – or more importantly their headline-seeking leadership.

Yet those who advocate for police are also fanning the flames. The head of New York City’s police union is on the air claiming the City is back on a “war footing.” He’s wrong, as anyone who lived in New York during the eighties and early nineties knows. This kind of escalating rhetoric is exactly what we don’t need.

The anti-cop protest crowd has taken a momentary turn, scrambling over themselves to praise the police that they were so roundly condemning just last week. But as soon as there is another incident that jibes with their agenda, they’ll be back. Meanwhile, those who want to protest the protesters will use this tragedy to accuse them of collective responsibility for the act of a single murderous individual.

It is time to reject all of those who insist on casting our society as us and them. Let’s embrace those who only believe in us.

Jim Cavanaugh is former Supervisor of Town of Eastchester and former Chair of Westchester County Republican Committee.

It’s Time To Stand With Our Police

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My community, New Rochelle, NY, has an excellent police department. My family is pleased with the safety we enjoy thanks to the brave men and women in blue. I serve as a Westchester County Legislator and am also impressed by the excellent work of the Westchester County police. The job of police officer is as difficult as any in our society. Each day when police officers leave their homes, they put their lives on the line to protect all of us. In their duties, the police deal with the most evil aspects of our society: murder, assault, human trafficking & prostitution, domestic violence, drugs and others, which must negatively impact them in various ways. And yet, they keep heading out there to protect us. Most police officers do their jobs very well. Yes, mistakes are made and it’s a tough job to perform perfectly all the time. And yes, there are some bad cops out there, as in any profession. The officers that make mistakes can be punished in a court of law or through internal discipline procedures, and we certainly hear about cops being punished in the media.

I believe we should stand with our police when they are unfairly criticized – and that time is now. You cannot watch the protesters from Ferguson to New York City (“NYC”) and not see examples of hatred towards police. Not every protester is bashing cops, but many are. This past weekend in NYC, protesters were caught chanting: “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” It’s impossible to understand how anyone could chant such hateful words.

We all must support freedom of speech and the right to peacefully assemble to protest about issues, and many people are doing so across the country. However, other protesters are crossing the line into violence and other illegal actions. In NYC this past weekend, we had a protester mob attack two police lieutenants.  The New York Post reported:

“The violence erupted shortly after the two lieutenants attempted to stop one of the angry agitators from hurling a garbage can at other cops standing in the walkway below, police said.

That’s when other demonstrators intervened and attacked the officers — knocking them to the ground and kicking and punching them before trying to steal their jackets and radios, according to police.”

Mayor DeBlasio recently stated, “People need to know that black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives . . . The relationship between police and community has to change.” Is this based on empirical research? No, it’s not. It’s just his flawed opinion. His views are at odds with the fact that over the past 25 years the NYC police have made it the safest big city in our country (confirmed on Politifact.com) and crime deceased in every neighborhood. And by the way Mr. Mayor, who wrongly stands with the protesters instead of the police, I personally don’t know a single person that is not fully aware that “black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives.” As a Catholic, my faith has taught me this fundamental truth since I was a little boy. It’s never been in doubt to the vast majority of New Yorkers.

Like so many others, I’m troubled by the Eric Garner video. To me, Mr. Garner’s crime was minimal and he did not appear to be resisting arrest that much. But as an attorney, I respect the rule of law and recognize that those accused of a crime may rely on their constitutional rights in their defense. I and all the protesters were not on the grand jury, and we did not review all the evidence presented. Regardless of our opinion on the grand jury’s actions, we must accept the result of their deliberations, while being saddened by the death of Mr. Garner.

So while it appears mistakes were made by the police in the Garner death, I don’t believe their actions can be deemed racist in any way, and it does not appear they intended to kill Mr. Garner. I expect that the police officer who caused the death will face police discipline and sanctions. But I also noticed on the news another group of protesters chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, these racists cops have got to go!” Who are the racist cops they are referring to? I don’t have an answer.

This cop bashing is wrong in the face of the facts and a slander of many brave police officers regularly placed in dangerous situations to protect us. It’s time to vocally stand with our police against reckless and erroneous attacks – stand with them on social media and when you hear someone slandering them, and also by saying “Thank You” when you see a police officer protecting our streets. I will do so right now – thank you to the New Rochelle and Westchester County police for protecting my community and my family so well.

Jim Maisano
Jim@FreeVoter.com