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.