Tag : abuse

What began as a united front by women senators to end military sexual assault is turning into a political battle of wills with Democratic lawmakers forcing colleagues to pick sides amid heated rhetoric.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Claire McCaskill of Missouri have staked out competing positions as they court allies in the Senate and within the Pentagon for separate plans aimed at halting what has become an epidemic for the military.

Adding to the pressure is growing discord among former military prosecutors, senior Pentagon officials and victims of sexual assault who have taken sides against one another in their allegiance with congressional opponents. For all involved, the stakes are high. The Pentagon is eager to show that it is responsive, lawmakers are determined to fix what they see as a broken system and survivors want guarantees that the risks they took to speak out were worth it. And time is running out as Congress completes debate on the defense spending bill where real changes can be implemented.

Earlier this year, all 20 women senators–the highest number ever serving in that chamber–spoke with pride of working together, across partisan lines, to end what President Obama has called “a scourge.” But amid the politicking and lobbying, that unity has begun to unravel. Without action after the August recess, military women may have to wait another year for the chance at Congress relief.

Gillibrand has gathered the support of 44 senators–Republicans and Democrats–for her Military Justice Improvement Act. The bill would remove the prosecution of serious crimes, such as sexual assault, from the chain of command. Servicewomen have long argued that having a commanding officer preside over a complaint of abuse between two subordinates has often favored the attacker over the victim.

As Gillibrand gets closer to the 51 votes she would need to add the MJIA as an amendment to this defense spending bill, advocates for a competing plan championed by McCaskill have pushed back hard. At a press conference Thursday, McCaskill appeared with several retired female commanders, non-commissioned officers, and members of the Judge Advocate General’s office who all support retaining the current system.

John LaBombard, a spokesperson for McCaskill, told MSNBC that Gillibrand and McCaskill both support a wide range of reforms that are included in McCaskill’s proposal, including ending retaliation against those who report and requiring a dishonorable discharge for those convicted of sex crimes. While both senators have vowed to continue fighting for survivors of military sexual assault–regardless of which reforms end up in the spending bill–the fundamental disagreement over how to fix the system remains.

McCaskill isn’t Gillibrand’s only foe. At an Armed Services Committee hearing in June, at which Democrats were responsible for determining the lion’s share of the witnesses, a dozen members of the military’s top brass testified against the fundamental elements of Gillibrand’s proposal regarding chain of command.

Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chair of the Armed Services Committee chair, made clear where he stood. He killed Gillibrand’s ideas and had McCaskill’s measure approved. Then on Tuesday, Levin went further, releasing two letters from top military officers in an attempt to discredit Gillibrand’s argument that commander involvement in prosecutions prevents cases from being pursued. “The power to initiate a court martial is perhaps the strongest weapon commanders have to back up efforts to change climate in their units,” Levin said in releasing the letters to the public, a move that was widely seen as undermining Gillibrand.

As Gillibrand has long stressed, the defense department’s own statistics show that the vast majority of unwanted sexual contact in the military is not even reported, perhaps for fear of retribution. Of an estimated 26,000 incidents in 2012, fewer than 3,000 were reported, and only 302 were prosecuted. McCaskill and her supporters have argued that commanders must retain the authority to be involved in investigations and convene courts martial in order to ensure accountability and to protect against retaliation. Her, and Levin’s position, is exactly what the Pentagon leadership is pushing for.

Such voices have long held sway over much of the Armed Services Committee which is tasked with oversight, and not accommodation, of the military’s top brass.

But Gillibrand has the backing of servicemember groups that strongly disagree with the Pentagon view supported by McCaskill and Levin. Taryn Meeks, Executive Director of Protect Our Defenders and a former member of the Navy JAG corps, noted in an interview that a commander is accountable for far more than just prosecuting criminal offenses. Unit cohesion–the concept of maintaining a positive atmosphere within a unit–can trump the desire to punish one member of the unit over another.

“Commanders are responsible for maintaining a healthy ‘command climate,’ which includes all sorts of matters from physical readiness, to professional development, to a workplace free of hostility and harassment,” Meeks said.

Meeks’ group, Protect Our Defenders, sharply criticized McCaskill in an open letter from an assault survivor printed in a Missouri paper earlier this week. The Service Women’s Action Network has also backed Gillibrand’s plan as the only way to start solving the problem.

On a conference call with survivors of military sexual assault held Wednesday, Gillibrand once again compared the fight against military sexual assault to the fight to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the law that prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly. “We’re hearing a lot of the same excuses” for a lack of progress, Gillibrand said, but added that she was “hopeful” that change is possible. Yet if her measure fails when the Senate debates the defense authorization after the August recess, the next best chance for serious reform won’t come again until next year’s bill.

In a hearing in the House last week on how to improve care for veterans who suffer from military sexual trauma, Gillibrand found extra support from a longtime House ally. Rep. Jackie Speier, the California Democrat who tried to move a companion bill to Gillibrand’s in the House, asked four assault survivors testifying if they believed prosecution should be removed from the chain of command. All four raised their hands immediately.

The woman who convinced the Bank of England to make Jane Austen the new face of the £10 note has received rape and death threats from Twitter users.

Feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez received around 50 abusive tweets an hour for a 12-hour period after she successfully campaigned for the British writer to feature on the bank note.

MPs and celebrities have now begun a campaign urging Twitter to develop a button to allow users to report abuse. More than 22,700 people had signed up as of lunchtime on Sunday.

tweet perez

Ms Criado-Perez said: “It’s sadly not unusual to get this kind of abuse but I’ve never seen it get as intense or aggressive as this.

“It’s infuriating that the price you pay for standing up for women is 24 hours of rape threats. We are showing that by standing together we can make a real difference.

“We made the Bank of England change its mind, we can do the same with Twitter.”

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, described the abuse as “not only disgusting, but criminal”.

“A quick look at Twitter this morning shows that women are not prepared to stand by and take this kind of abuse,” she said.

“Twitter needs to get its house in order, and fast.”

High-profile journalists including Caitlin Moran and Suzanne Moore have joined Ms Creasy in signing up to the petition.

Ms Criado-Perez’s campaign for Austen to appear on the new bank note attracted more than 35,000 signatures after the Bank of England revealed it was planning to replace Elizabeth Fry with Winston Churchill on new £5 notes – meaning there would be no women other than the Queen on sterling bank notes.

A Twitter spokesman said: “The ability to report individual tweets for abuse is currently available on Twitter for iPhone and we plan to bring this functionality to other platforms, including Android and the web.

“We don’t comment on individual accounts. However, we have rules which people agree to abide by when they sign up to Twitter. We will suspend accounts that once reported to us, are found to be in breach of our rules.

“We encourage users to report an account for violation of the Twitter rules by using one of our report forms.”

Tony Wang, the general manager of Twitter UK, later tweeted that the company is testing ways to simplify the reporting of abuse.

“We encourage users to report an account for violation of the Twitter rules by using one of our report forms,” he said.

“Also, we’re testing ways to simplify reporting, e.g. within a Tweet by using the ‘Report Tweet’ button in our iPhone app and on mobile web.

“We will suspend accounts that, once reported to us, are found to be in breach of our rules.”

In the wake of Emma Roberts’s arrest for allegedly battering her boyfriend, Philip W. Cook writes on the shockingly high number of women who beat their partners—and why it’s harder for the men to find help.

The recent news that Emma Roberts was arrested for domestic violence July 7 in Montreal after a fight with her boyfriend, American Horror Story co-star Evan Peters, is merely the latest celebrity case where the man is the victim.

Police were called to their hotel and Evan had a bloody nose, and one source reported a bite mark. Emma was arrested, but Evan did not press charges so she was released. Emma is the daughter of actor Eric Roberts and the niece of Julia Roberts and was a child star on the Nickelodeon series Unfabulous.

But this is far from the first time a female celebrity or celebrity’s wife has been in the news for violence against a man.

Kelly Bensimon, who played in the reality show The Real Housewives of New York City, was arrested for allegedly giving her boyfriend a black eye and a bloody gash. The girlfriend of Tampa Bay linebacker Geno Hayes was arrested for reportedly stabbing Hayes in the neck and head. The former wife of ’80s pop superstar Lionel Richie was arrested for investigation of spousal abuse, trespassing, and vandalism. Humphrey Bogart’s third wife, Mayo Methot, was frequently abusive to him, with Bogart receiving a stab wound in the back. In an interview with Redbook, Whitney Houston said that she was the aggressor in her marriage to Bobby Brown. “Contrary to belief, I do the hitting, he doesn’t.” Actress Tawny Kitaen agreed to plead to spousal abuse and battery charges after attacking husband St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chuck Finley. Actor and comedian Phil Hartman was shot and killed by his wife, as was Carolina Panther Fred Lane. Lane’s teammates reported that prior to his death, he had more injuries from his wife than those received on the playing field. Former NFL quarterback Steve McNair was fatally shot by a girlfriend.

There is great similarity between female and male victims and their abusers. The biggest difference is that male victims find themselves in the same position women were 30 years ago. Their problem is viewed as of little consequence, or they are to blame, and their are few available resources for male victims. Three-quarters of the men who contact an abuse shelter or hotline report that the agency would provide services only to women, and nearly two-thirds were treated as the abuser rather than the victim.

University of New Hampshire researcher Murray Straus calls it “selective inattention” because of the total emphasis on female victims, despite what research has shown since 1977. Straus and his colleagues found that in minor violence, the incident rates were equal for men and women. In cases of severe violence, more men were victimized than women, with 1.8 million women victims of severe violence and 2 million male victims of severe violence a year. Women suffer a greater amount of total injuries ranging from mild to serious, but when it comes to serious injuries where weapons and object use come into play, the injury rate may be about the same.

Hundreds of scientific studies support what every experienced law-enforcement officer knows: half the time, it is a case of mutual combat; a quarter of the time only the woman is violent; a quarter of the time only the man is. Women strike first in some manner half the time, which of course, greatly increases her chances of being hurt in return.

In May 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its latest study with about half of violent couples reporting mutual combat, but “in nonreciprocally violent relationships, women were the perpetrators in more than 70 percent of the cases,” and men incurred significant injuries. The CDC reported that about one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

We need to be realistic about how to deal with intimate-partner violence, based on research and best practices—but that is far from the case.

In Gender Inclusive Treatment of Intimate Partner Abuse, researcher John Hamel says, “Individuals who have been identified as perpetrators by the criminal justice system are typically mandated to batterer intervention programs, also known as BIPs. Forty-five states have established legal standards to regulate BIPs. Treatments based on psychodynamic theory, impulse control disorders, family systems or mental health models are prohibited. More than two-thirds (68 percent) forbid participants in BIPs from seeking couples or family counseling. … Less than one in six states require BIP group facilitators to hold a professional mental health license.”

All this means that women and men who return again and again to the same type of violent relationship are not being helped. One size does not fit all—there is a difference between the intimate-partner terrorist and the one-time family dispute.

Celebrity or not, men, women, and the children who learn about violence from their parents are, in most cases, not receiving appropriate help and intervention.

Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward handled two sexual assault complaints in four years as an Air Force wing commander. Both times, she recalls, the accusers recanted, ending the investigations. Both times, General Woodward assumed the assaults never took place.

She sees things differently today. While overseeing the Air Force’s investigation of sexual abuses at Lackland Air Force Base last year, she learned that victims often withdrew complaints because they blamed themselves, were ashamed or feared no one would believe them.

“I didn’t know enough to try and at least look into it and help,” she said. “You sit there and go, ‘Could I have made a difference?’ ”

The general is getting her chance to make a difference now. Last month, the Air Force named her to run a significantly expanded office in charge of its sexual assault prevention and response policies.

Among her main goals, the general said in an interview, will be to encourage more airmen and women to not only report sexual assault but also pursue prosecution. Providing good care for victims will help in that pursuit, she said, but so will improving the way cases are handled, from initial reports through investigations and prosecutions.

“How a person is treated in that first report can determine how she is going to handle it up the chain,” the general said. “And even how her recovery goes.”

General Woodward’s hiring represents not just an expansion of the sexual assault office, but also a significant elevation of its importance, as her predecessor was a lieutenant colonel. The move comes as the entire military is under fierce Congressional pressure to reduce sexual assault, fueled partly by a recent report estimating that 26,000 assaults took place in the military last year, up from 19,000 two years before.

Though its rate of sexual assault is not significantly different from the rest of the military, the Air Force has had a run of particularly bad publicity. Last year, a series of courts-martial at Lackland revealed widespread sexual misbehavior involving instructors and recruits in training programs. This year, two Air Force generals have come under fire for their handling of sexual assault cases: one for reversing a conviction, the other for granting clemency to a convicted officer.

But perhaps most embarrassing, General Woodward’s predecessor as director of the sexual assault response unit, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was arrested in May on a sexual battery charge. The police said he groped a woman he did not know in a parking lot near the Pentagon.

Just a few weeks after that arrest, General Woodward, then chief of safety for the Air Force, received a call from Gen. Larry O. Spencer, the vice chief of staff, asking her to lead an expanded sexual assault office. After she demurred, he called back the next day, a Friday, to ask again. When she finally agreed to take the job, General Spencer told her she would start on Monday.

In an interview, General Spencer denied that the Air Force had rushed to expand the office because of Colonel Krusinski’s arrest. But he acknowledged shortcomings in the Air Force’s efforts to fight sexual assault. “Whatever we were doing obviously did not solve the problem,” he said.

Putting the office under a two-star general who reports directly to him is just part of a broader campaign, General Spencer said. “I am on a rampage to stamp out sexual assault,” he said. “We’re pursuing this with as much vigor as anything I’ve ever seen.”

This year, the Air Force created the new position of special victims counsel to help sexual assault victims navigate the legal process. It has also begun requiring that all sex crime cases be reported up the chain of command to general officers to increase oversight. It will soon begin an online campaign to educate airmen on sexual assault, and this fall it will require wing commanders and general officers to attend a sexual assault conference.

General Spencer said that vigorous prosecution of perpetrators would be crucial to curbing the problem, likening the Air Force effort to the campaign to reduce drunken driving two decades ago. Though General Woodward’s office does not oversee investigators or prosecutors, she said she hoped to influence them through training and education programs.

General Woodward, 53, has the authority to hire a staff of 31, eight times as many as who worked in the small branch that Colonel Krusinski directed. Fourteen people have joined so far, including someone with a Ph.D. in social work, an analyst who will crunch statistics and a criminal investigator to provide guidance on how cases are handled.

The newest hire, Master Sgt. Heidi Huff, who volunteers as a victims’ advocate at Andrews Air Force Base, said she hoped the office would succeed in encouraging more people to report assaults.

“From my experience, that’s the toughest part — victims blaming themselves,” said Sergeant Huff, whose full-time job is as a flight attendant. “It makes me cry to think about it.”

Her experience is particularly relevant: in the 1990s, she said, she was sexually assaulted by a service member. Though she reported the attack, the perpetrator was not prosecuted, she said.

The newness of the unit, located on the fifth floor of the Pentagon, is palpable on the empty white walls of General Woodward’s office. Photographs she intends to hang sit on the floor awaiting hooks.

Among them is a picture that underscores her Air Force pedigree, showing her with President George W. Bush, with whom she became friendly when she commanded the 89th Airlift Wing, which operates Air Force One.

A pilot who has flown C-130 cargo planes and C-135 refueling tankers, the general has also commanded a wing at MacDill Air Force Base and the 17th Air Force in Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where she directed the NATO air campaign over Libya in 2011.

Her résumé will undoubtedly give her valuable credibility as she tries to influence the commanders who must carry out the policies her office develops. But there is also a sense of humility among her and her staff about the task ahead. “It sounds trite, I know, but we’re building the airplane as we fly it,” she said.

Describing her initial hesitation about taking the job, General Woodward said she expressed concerns to General Spencer about not having the answers for such a complex problem.

“He said that no one does, but that I needed to go out and find them,” she said. “I hope I can do that.”

Around the globe, 30 percent of all women aged 15 and older have suffered intimate partner violence – including physical and sexual attacks, according to the first systematic study of available data on assaults against women, released Thursday.

The rates of abuse vary widely by world regions: in Sub-Saharan Central Africa, for example, two-thirds of women have been victimized, marking the highest portion on any section of the planet; in North America, violence from an intimate partner, such as a husband or boyfriend, has impacted slightly more one in five women, report the authors. For the paper, published online by the journal Science, the authors synthesized 141 previous studies from 81 countries.

“The prevalence is shockingly high,” said lead author Karen Devries,  a social epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “People in general will be surprised by the figure, since many forms of violence remain hidden from public view. Those who have experienced intimate partner violence often do not disclose to those people close to them.”

“These findings send a powerful message that violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions,” added Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, which partnered on the research with the London School of Hygiene and the South African Medical Research Council. “We also see that the world’s health systems can and must do more for women who experience violence.”

According to the report, “a greater focus on primary prevention is urgently needed.” It also described the field of preventing violence against women as being “still in its nascence.”

In the United States, where domestic violence crimes among some celebrities have made news – including recent cases against boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather, pop star Chris Brown, and actor Mel Gibson — two leading experts said they were not surprised by the reported prevalence. And in Britain this week, police said they are investigating photos of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson that allegedly show her husband’s hands around her neck.

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which bills itself as the largest organization of feminist activists in the U.S., said, “I think we know how to prevent it. I think we’ve just begun develop the political will to implement the programs that we know need to be put into place.”

Those programs include, O’Neill said, services that allow survivors to become economically self-sufficient so they can live apart from their abusers, and holding intimate-violence criminals accountable.

She called the 1994 Violence Against Women Act “a pretty good role model” that began “shifting the culture and the opportunities for women so they’re not dependent on an individual who may turn out to be violent.” Among the features of that law, which extends coverage to male victims: tougher federal penalties for repeat sex offenders, and the creation of a federal “rape shield law,” which prevents offenders from using a victim’s past sexual conduct against the victim during a rape trial.

But such cultural reform has yet to reach every corner of the globe. According to a recent United Nations report, 125 countries have outlawed domestic violence. By that math, 70 countries have not made domestic violence illegal. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, a court ruled in 2010 that a man is permitted under Islamic law to physically discipline his wife and children as long as he leaves no marks and has tried other methods of punishment.

In fact, the rates of physical and sexual violence against women are likely higher than the new report found because female victims are often reluctant to reveal such crimes, O’Neill said.

“I’m, myself, a survivor of domestic violence and I didn’t talk about it publicly for 30 years,” O’Neill said.

In addition to physical and sexual attacks by intimate partners, women face still more forms of intimidation from partners that can be equally controlling, said Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, based in Denver.

The finding of a 30-percent worldwide victim rate doesn’t surprise Smith, she said, adding: “Those numbers are consistent with what domestic-violence advocates know happens in local communities all over the country.”

“What is important to notice about this report: there’s a whole other layer of violence that happens that isn’t physical – emotional, economic, verbal, stalking, threats with weapons – that would raise those numbers exponentially,” Smith said.

“They are still terrifying. They are ways to control another human being,” Smith added. “We need to pay attention to the (new) numbers because when we have this amount of people being physically assaulted, it indicates a much broader problem of violence.”

By dealing with violent misogyny on a “case by case” basis, Facebook sends the message that the wider ideas are OK, writes Jane Fae.

This piece contains descriptions of, and links to, extremely disturbing imagery of sexual violence from the very start. Reader discretion is strongly advised.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but what do you do after raping a deaf mute? Simple: Break her fingers so she can’t tell anyone!

That – and here I’ll apologise both for that opening and for what follows – is vile. Beyond belief that it be accepted as humour in this day and age. (Although I’ll note, in passing, that it is also staple fare for some of our supposedly “edgier” comics, who get away with such stuff because their quick-fire style means they deliver one obscenity and are on to the next before you realise what you’ve just heard).

And its by no means the worst. Facebook is awash with such viciousness. Images of women beaten, bruised, murdered, raped in all their technicolour glory.

If you have a strong stomach, WomenActionMedia! (WAM!) have been collecting examples.

Only, these are jokes, doncha know? Because they carry witty captions such as “She Broke My Heart. I Broke Her Nose”, or “Women deserve equal rights. And lefts”.

I am not even going to try and analyse. Some of it makes me angry beyond words; some just makes me want to cry.

Instead, let’s pull back a little and understand why, suddenly, the issue is making news. I first encountered instances of this particular misogynistic trope on the #silentnomore hashtag: that was an attempt by women, including survivors of abuse and violence, to create a space where they could speak about their experiences.

Bad idea. Women speaking to women clearly enraged some men, who bombarded the topic with “what about us?” rhetoric – and witty links to this sort of imagery. I complained to Twitter: nothing happened. The pictures stayed.

Meanwhile, over on Facebook, these pics have been proliferating. Sometimes, its blokes – y’know, regular kind of guys – sharing them “for a laff”. Sometimes, they are used more aggressively, to attack and humiliate “uppity women”. Women, in turn, have been noticing. A joint campaign, organised by Everyday Sexism, WAM! and Soraya Chemaly has condemned this material as gender-based hate speech: their campaign, asking advertisers to boycott Facebook, is gaining support and increasing in effectiveness.You can follow what’s happening on #FBrape.

As for Facebook, they have spluttered highmindedly about the difficulty of negotiating a pathway between interest groups: how they must balance individual rights against the imperative of free speech. Interviewed by the BBC, one spokesperson rejected calls for them to censor “disturbing content”, or “crude attempts at humour”, because “while it may be vulgar and offensive, distasteful content on its own does not violate our policies”.

Still, they acknowledge officially that much of this material is “abhorrent to many of us who work at Facebook”. A spokesperson added: “These cases test all of us, because they can be deeply jarring.”

Do you not feel their pain, caught between a rock and a hard place?

Besides, they claim, the vast majority of this content has been taken down already. Although, in what looks like a serious attempt to have their cake and eat it, they further add: “removing content is not the solution to getting rid of ignorance. Having the freedom to debate serious issues like this is how we fight prejudice”.

Silly me! I must have missed out on the serious debate about whether it is appropriate to break a woman’s nose if she fails to make a sandwich right, first time of asking.

There is no serious issue in play here, beyond what should be the limits of free speech and what is acceptable within a relatively open online space. I have a smidgeon of sympathy for the US-based Facebook, nailed to a US legal perspective on free speech whereby only material that shows direct harm can be prosecuted.

facebook down

But that’s only half the story. Facebook has a long track record of somewhat heavy-handedly imposing heteronormative values and attitudes. Breastfeeding groups have been taken down, as have all manner of pages celebrating the female body in art and more generally, while soft porn remains. As does some hate speech, magically disappearing only when a journalist mentions it to their press office.

Laura, organiser at EverydaySexism, tells me today about the different treatment of two cases. Complaints about the content of “Black bitches and dogs” led to content being removed on a picture by picture basis: whereas the organiser of “Amazing Women” found her page supporting the #FBrape campaign, with some images added as political statement, taken down – and her personal account suspended.

Suspicion remains that Facebook have only intervened more publicly in response to the #FBrape campaign, issuing soothing words to calm their advertisers.

In the end, though, what’s truly problematic is this idea that all speech is equal, and speech that encourages abuse and violence against women is every bit as worthwhile and protection-worthy as any other form of speech. It isn’t – that’s an 18th century argument still getting too much unquestioning support in an internet age. Speech and publication mean something very different from what the US founding fathers meant. It’s a very laddish argument, which is not to say that women may not also support it: but the fact that Facebook relies on it means they are not listening to women and to an alternative perspective that women may put.

That’s the real issue here. Facebook needs to start listening to women. No joke.

Jane Fae's picture

Jane Fae is a feminist writer. She tweets as @JaneFae. Via NewStatesman

My husband, Bruce, was a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives until October 10th, 2000 when he died of pleural mesothelioma––a rare disease caused by asbestos exposure. He was exposed during his work as a laborer, a job he took so he could put himself through college. While many only know of asbestos cancers like mesothelioma from late-night television commercials, there are a growing number of people experiencing the real fate this deadly disease carries.


Mesothelioma is known as being a fast mover after diagnosis, taking most victims’ lives just four to eighteen months later. Asbestos victims rely on compensation from personal injury trusts through asbestos claims to cover their insurmountable medical expenses, but sadly many victims only receive a small percentage of what companies owe them. This places a huge burden on the victims and their families.

Recently, asbestos companies are using their political influence to push a new bill in Congress, led by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It is called the “Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act.” In short, these companies want to use this bill as a means to delay medical payments, which results in most victims dying before they seek justice. The parties in support of this bill are hiding behind this notion of “transparency”, but the reality is this bill places burdensome reporting requirements on victims applying to the bankruptcy trusts. This requirement is not two-sided, however. The same companies who are to blame won’t have comparable requirements, creating a one-sided and unfair bill designed to debilitate those who have already been injured. Personally identifiable information such as the last four digits of social security numbers, private work history, and personal information of children exposed at an early age would become public, making victims vulnerable to identity theft and discrimination.

This is just the latest attempt by big companies and individuals like the Koch brothers to avoid responsibility for their heinous wrongdoings. Just last week the House Judiciary Committee began fast-tracking this bill. Even though the Committee promised to hold a public hearing to provide an opportunity for a patient and two widows to testify, they instead sent the bill to a full committee markup and vote without bothering to hear the victims’ side of the story.

The time is now for us to take a stand. I am a spokesperson for the Asbestos Cancer Victims’ Rights Campaign. The ACVRC is a national campaign dedicated to protecting the rights and privacy of asbestos victims and their families.  By joining our fight, you can help us defeat this unfair legislation and the potentially dangerous precedent it sets.

I work with the ACVRC to honor Bruce’s legacy as well as do what I can to help other patients and families protect their legal and constitutional rights. While awareness and information surrounding mesothelioma have improved considerably, we need to continue raising our voices. Starting with signing our petition, I encourage you to join our effort. With your help, we can put a stop to this legislation. Together, we can work towards building a better tomorrow and truly make a lasting difference.

Susan Vento of Cancer Victims Rights