The sky is blue and the air is sparkling clean as day dawns in El Paso, TX, which we made a stop on our journey in honor of a series we are totally addicted to called The Bridge. I understand it has been cancelled, but it’s premise was that there was a lot of horrible crime in Juarez because law enforcement authorities on both sides had given incentives to keep the ugliest crimes on the Mexican side of The Bridge, and US drug enforcement personnel at the highest levels protected drug flow into our country through tunnels and trucking. Fascinating, although in truth, sometimes AdventureMan and I looked at each other and asked “What just happened?”
We have a short driving day today, but a stop at Tombstone, the site of the shoot-out at the OK Corral. Well, not really the OK Corral but the alley next to it. We read Mary Doria Russel’s book Doc, about Doc Holliday, and then Epitaph, her book about Wyatt Earp, and they made it so real, we wanted to visit just to pay tribute to Mary Doria Russel’s research and wonderfully readable books, which take legendary characters and makes them fully human.
Up early, to catch the sunrise reflecting off the windows of El Paso:
We feel so safe, the parking lot is full of Homeland Security personnel vehicles. Although it is a Sunday morning, many are eating breakfast and heading out to guard the border:
It is a totally different day from the rainy mess we drove through all day from San Antonio to El Paso. The sky is so blue and the air is so clear and we are thoroughly enjoying this day:
As we leave Texas, AdventureMan points out that the underside of the overpasses are painted in Southwestern colors, and there are graphic designs on the pillars. The Highways are beautiful! Someone put a little extra thought into making them memorable.
There is a cross gleaming high on a bare mountain, and I am trying to imagine how they got it up there, and how they engineered it so it would be stable and stay there:
Welcome to New Mexico!
As we are paralleling the border, there is another security stop:
We really wanted to buy something at this shop, but the baskets were all made in Pakistan! We have Pakistani baskets! I finally left with just a CD of new-age sort of Indian mystical music, soulful flutes, shaking bones, you know the kind, to put us in the Southwest frame of mind. It’s one of the few things we bought for ourselves on the trip.
From AOL News via Sports Illustrated
When I lived in Kuwait and Qatar, I was appalled by the way rapes were treated, it was like this huge wave of abductions and violations, and nothing was done. As it turns out, things are changing a lot slower in my own country than I thought. This new film, The Hunting Ground, is by the same person who documented violence and rape in the US military, spurring then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, a truly decent man, to put the fear of God into the military leaders who were covering up the many rapes and blaming the victims. We have the same problem on college campuses.
There is only one cure. We have to raise our sons to respect women. We have to continue raising the bar for equality in our country until women have equal access to jobs, health treatment, legal proceedings, etc. Films like The Hunting Ground are painful, and at the same time, help us to face, and to overcome our societal short comings.
I love it that this film is “giving voice to those who have no voices;” that these courageous women speaking out have bravely named their rapists and described their circumstances. It can’t be comfortable, but it is their right. I am proud that they are not intimidated by fear of the ‘blame the victim’ mentality they have endured on their college campuses. When did colleges and universities begin placing money-making and winning teams before the well-being of their students?
New film gives chilling account of sexual assault on college campuses
BY JEFF BENEDICT
Sexual assaults on college campuses have reached alarming levels and the issue has drawn the attention of Congress and even President Obama himself. The latest research indicates that one in five college women will be sexually assaulted and as many as 90% of reported assaults are acquaintance rapes. It is believed that more than 100,000 college students will be sexually assaulted during the current school year. Nowhere is the deck stacked more against sexual assault victims than in college athletics. In just the last few years alone there have been cases at Florida State, Michigan, Oregon, Vanderbilt andMissouri.
All of this is a backdrop to a harrowing new film that premiers in theaters on Friday in New York City and Los Angeles. The Hunting Ground is a jarring exposé that shines a bright light on the epidemic number of sexual assaults taking place on college campuses each year.
The Hunting Ground features a group of survivors who faced harsh retaliation and harassment for reporting that they had been raped. The film focuses on institutional cover-ups and the brutal backlash against survivors at campuses such as Harvard, Yale,Dartmouth, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USC and the University ofCalifornia-Berkeley, among others.
Some of the most vexing stories featured in the film involve women who were assaulted by athletes. While The Hunting Ground isn’t all about sports, the most dramatic moment in the film occurs two-thirds of the way through when the woman who accused former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston—who after a strong showing in last week’s Combine is projected by many to be the No. 1 pick in this spring’s NFL draft—appears and tells her story publicly for the first time. The woman, who is named in the film but SI.com has chosen to protect her identity, is shown on camera and gives her life-changing account of what she says happened the night in December 2012 she left a Tallahassee bar with Winston.
A high school honor student who planned to attend medical school, the woman is articulate and attractive. She looks like the girl next door, a person you would trust to babysit your children. It is uncomfortable to watch—yet impossible to look away—when she describes being beneath Winston on his bathroom floor, repeatedly telling him “no” before being physically overpowered.
“We’re grateful it’s the first time people will get to hear [her] story,” said The Hunting Ground director Kirby Dick. “It’s her first-hand testimony. Up to this point it hasn’t been in a public space.”
The woman’s parents also appear in the film. Her father talks about driving to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital with his wife to be with their daughter hours after the incident.
There is nothing easy about retelling these stories for the world to see. But the attorney for the woman who says she was raped by Winston, John Clune, said his client decided to break her silence in the film because she felt it was the right venue to tell her story.
“The film was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Clune said. “The work by these filmmakers is nothing less than groundbreaking. It took tremendous courage, but our client and all of the incredibly brave women in the film have advanced the cause of rape survivors everywhere.”
The Hunting Ground also examines a sexual assault accusation against a Notre Damefootball player in 2010. Tom Seeberg, whose daughter committed suicide after she says she was sexually assaulted by a Fighting Irish starter, tells a heartbreaking account of school officials thwarting the investigation into his daughter’s complaint. A former Notre Dame police officer reveals that he and his colleagues were not allowed to approach or question an athlete on athletic properties.
The film also mentions rape cases involving football players at Missouri and Vanderbilt, as well as basketball players at Oregon.
The testimonials of rape survivors are wrapped between raw footage that is both gut-wrenching and disturbing. A small mob of unruly fraternity pledges at Yale are captured on film outside a freshman dorm for women, chanting: “No means yes. Yes means anal.” All the while a guy with a bullhorn is shouting: “Louder.”
In another scene we see drunken frat boys spilling out of a house where there is a sign out front that says: “THANKS FOR YOUR DAUGHTERS.” It’s enough to outrage any parent with a daughter heading off to college.
The film is directed by Dick and produced by Amy Ziering, the team behind the Oscar-nominated film The Invisible War, which revealed systemic sexual assaults and cover-ups within the U.S. military. That movie prompted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to announce significant policy changes and inspired the passage of the Military Justice Improvement Act.
Dick and Ziering started looking into the situation on college campuses shortly after the release of The Invisible War. “We were astonished that the problem was as serious in higher education as it was in the military,” Dick said.
Full disclosure: I appear in The Hunting Ground as an expert. Two of the cases in the film—Lizzy Seeberg’s alleged assault at Notre Dame and running back Derrick Washington’s sexual assault of a student at the University of Missouri—are featured in my book The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, which I wrote with 60 Minutes correspondent Armen Keteyian.
Some of my research is also featured in the film, including the statistic that student-athletes are responsible for 19% of the reported sexual assaults on campus, despite the fact that they comprise just 3.3% of the male student population. Those figures arose from a first-of-its-kind study I conducted with researchers at the University of Massachusetts in the mid-90s when we were granted access to judicial affairs records and police reports at colleges across the country.
Over the past 20 years I have researched hundreds of cases of sexual assault involving athletes. During that time I’ve interviewed countless sexual assault victims. The thing I found most telling was what prosecutor Willie Meggs did not say in the film. Meggs was asked if he thought a rape took place in Winston’s apartment. It was a perfect opportunity for the man who chose not to prosecute Winston to say no. Instead, he said something “bad” happened in that apartment that night. He just didn’t have sufficient evidence to prove it.
That’s not unusual. That’s typical. Only about 20% of rapes reported to the police in the U.S. are prosecuted. Yet at least 92% of reported sexual assault claims are found to be true. The problem is that date rape cases are very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, especially when alcohol is involved and the incident occurs in the perpetrator’s apartment, dorm or hotel room. The doubts raised by those factors are amplified when the accused is a star athlete.
The greatest achievement of The Hunting Ground is that it empowers rape victims to team up with each other and come forward. It’s fair to say that for the first time in many years, women like Jameis Winston’s alleged victim have powerful allies.
By the time the NFL draft takes place in May, the film will be in theaters around the country, the name of Winston’s accuser will be everywhere and more details about the night in question will likely come out. All of this brings to mind the legal maxim caveat emptor, which essentially is a warning that means let the buyer beware.
Jason Licht, the general manager for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ultimately has to decide whether to use the first pick on Winston. He’s on record saying: “This is the most important pick, potentially, in the history of the franchise.”
Memo to Licht: Watch The Hunting Ground.
The ramifications in this instance are equally big for the NFL, whose image took a beating over the last year after Ray Rice was caught on tape knocking out his then-fiancé in an elevator. The controversy erupted after Commissioner Roger Goodell imposed a two-game suspension without bothering to obtain and watch the video.
Memo to the Commissioner: Watch The Hunting Ground.
No matter what happens with Winston, the film succeeds in its main goal: to shine a light on sexual assault on college campuses. It’s an important issue that isn’t going away, and if something drastic isn’t done immediately, it will only get worse.
Jeff Benedict is a lawyer and has written five books on athletes and violence against women, including Public Heroes, Private Felons: Athletes and Violence Against Women, and Out of Bounds: Inside the NBA’s Culture of Rape, Violence and Crime.
In the category of ‘you can run, but you can’t hide’ is the fact that hundreds, thousands of rape kits have gone untested in police departments all over the United States. Too expensive, or so they say, to process them all, but the force of public opinion is relentless, and the result is that some of these kits are finally producing results and convictions that, at long last, give the rape victims some satisfaction.
I worked with one of the very first Rape Crisis Lines, back in the beginning when it was all new, in, of course, California. We worked with the victims, but we also worked with emergency workers and with police. It was a team. Most of the police I worked with were merciful and compassionate, but there are other places where the police culture is harsh, and rape victims are not well-treated. There are still those people who believe that somehow a victim asked for it in some way.
I learned some surprising things as I worked with the victims. I learned how strong and how smart victims (they’re not all women) can be. They did what they had to do to stay alive, and they memorized everything they could to be able to tell the police. Many made it a point to leave DNA in the car, or to save the rapist’s DNA. It was less about the physical violation than finding oneself in a position of utter powerlessness, and not knowing if you were going to survive. I didn’t pity the victims; I admired their courage and resilience.
JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — Evidence from more than 6,600 rape kits that went untested for years in Houston have turned up 850 hits in the FBI’s nationwide database of DNA profiles, marking a major step in the city’s $6 million effort to address the backlog, officials announced Monday.
Charges have been filed against 29 people, six of whom have been convicted, since the city launched an effort in 2013 to test 6,663 rape kits — some of which dated back nearly three decades. Testing was completed in the fall, and the results have now been uploaded to a database used by investigators nationwide to compare DNA profiles of possible suspects, Mayor Annise Parker said.
“This milestone is of special importance to rape survivors and their families and friends because it means their cases are receiving the attention they should have years ago,” Parker said at a news conference, where she joined local law enforcement officials to announce the results.
Police are continuing to review the matches to see if charges can be filed in other cases. In the cases where prosecutors have won convictions, defendants have received sentences ranging from 2 to 45 years in prison. One case was dismissed after the victim decided not to pursue the case.
Rape kits include biological samples and physical evidence gathered from sexual assault victims that are later processed to see if they match a suspect’s DNA. Testing results are uploaded to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.
Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said there were some cases where suspects committed other crimes while rape kits that could have identified them sat untested.
“Now that the testing of these kits is complete, we know that it’s up to us to finish the job and to seek justice for these victims. The ball is in our court and we will do our best to put the people who are responsible for these heinous crimes behind bars for as long as possible,” she said.
Experts say Houston’s backlog — and similar backlogs in other U.S. cities — are due in part to the high cost of testing which can run from $500 to $1,000 per kit, though advocates argue that the lack of testing signals that sex crimes haven’t always been law enforcement priorities.
More than 12,000 kits went untested for years in Memphis, Tennessee, which is facing a lawsuit from rape victims as it tries to test the kits. In Detroit, prosecutors discovered more than 11,000 rape kits in an abandoned police warehouse in 2009, and Cleveland prosecutors have sent their entire 4,700-kit backlog for testing.
“This is not a Houston problem. It’s not a Texas problem. It’s a nationwide issue that built up over years and years,” Parker said.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/juanlozano70