Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Daniel Holtzclaw Case

The Daniel Holtzclaw trial is in its second week in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Holzclaw was a police officer (now fired) who is alleged to have sexually abused* (at least) twelve women and one 17-year-old girl while on duty during the three years of his employment by the Oklahoma police.

What is it that the prosecutors say Holtzclaw did?  They say that he demanded sex** from women by using an extortion tactic:  They say that he targeted poor women with outstanding warrants or who had other reasons to avoid the police.  They say that he then offered to turn a blind eye should his personal sexual needs be catered for.

Holtzclaw was caught when he allegedly used his tactic on a woman who didn't have any outstanding warrants or other reasons to avoid the police, and who went and reported Holtzclaw.

The case has a strong racial flavor:  Holtzclaw's alleged victims were black women, usually middle-aged and poor black women, and Holtzclaw himself is white (with a Japanese mother)***.

What would drive a man to do something like that?  A desire to assault black women?  Picking victims based on the kinds of indicators which would suggest the smallest chance of being caught?  Or both?

I cannot answer those questions, and Holtzclaw hasn't been found guilty yet, so in a legal sense speculation about his possible motives is premature.

But let's think about how gender, race and social class interact in a case like this:  A heterosexual male police officer might target black women, both because they are women and because they are black (at least partly because this reduces the chances of being caught, especially if the women are poor and already in some difficulty with the police).

Thus, the statistical probability that a person becomes the victim of sexual extortion and/or sexual assault by a police officer would be higher for black women than for black men, higher for black women than for white women and higher for poor black women than for wealthier black women (who are less likely to have outstanding unpaid fines etc.)****. 

A rotten police officer of this type could be profiling his victims, seeking those who are least likely to provoke an uproar of any kind.  That his selection would raise the risk of being assaulted by a police officer more for black women than for either black men or white women (or men) is important to understand.  Note that those ending in his net don't have to have had a criminal history or anything similar.  Race and gender become the signals which this man would use.

That's why this problem is not just one about female victims or not just one about black victims.  It's both, and deserves a response which takes those interactions into account.

*  He is tried on

36 counts, including eight counts of rape. He also faces counts of sexual battery, forcible oral sodomy, burglary, stalking, indecent exposure and procuring lewd exhibition.

**More examples here, here and here.

*** The jury finally selected for the trial is also 100% white.  Oklahoma population is 7.7% African-American, based on this source (which probably under-counts African-Americans because of the definition it uses "Black or African-American alone"), so it's not at all impossible to get an all-white jury, even without manipulation, in some areas of Oklahoma.  But is this the case in the Holtzclaw trial?  Oklahoma City has a higher African-American population (14.0% or more based on this source), so much depends on the catchment area for the jury and whether defense lawyers can bar candidates in the jury pool without giving explicit reasons for that.  My apologies for not knowing the necessary legal issues here. 

Still, an all-white jury doesn't create confidence in those following this trial for possible racial bias.

For more on possible jury biases, read here.

****  That's a very dry way of addressing some of the issues Treva Lindsay writes about.  Or a way to put the extra harassment black women receive into the framework of statistical discrimination.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Today's Very Shallow Thought

My shampoo bottle back label says:  Healthier hair.

I thought hair is dead.  How can it become healthier? 

Will mine rise from the tomb, wave in the air and then strangle all the people around me?  Like the hairdo of Medusa?

In any case it's good for the closing of the scales. 

Monday, November 09, 2015

Some Good News, 11/9/15

1.  Canada's new cabinet has fifty percent those weird types of Canadians who are called women (and more ethnic and racial diversity, too).  Justin Trudeau, the new prime minister, explains that shocking choice of women like this:

“Because it’s 2015.”
Now if anti-feminists are correct, this government should fall on its butt in ten seconds, from sheer incompetence.  But I doubt it will.  Good for Trudeau.

2.  Twelve Irish priests have refused to stay silent about women not being allowed into the priesthood:

“Discriminating against women encourages and reinforces abuse and violence against women in many cultures and societies,” the group said.
A document, issued in 1994 by Pope John Paul II, reiterated the Church’s strict stance on women entering the clergy – and also banned further discussion on the matter by the clergy.
Pope John Paul II’s views on female priests were repeated by his successors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
A statement from the 12 priests published on the Association of Catholic Priests website read:
“The strict prohibition on discussing the question has failed to silence the majority of the Catholic faithful. Survey after survey indicates that a great many people are in favour of full equality for women in the Church. But it has managed to silence priests and bishops, because the sanctions being imposed on those who dare to raise the question are swift and severe.”

3.  Something better is happening in the "banks are too big to be allowed to fail" category.

I Told You So. Abstinence-Only Education Doesn't Work.

I did tell you so, on this blog, many years ago.  It doesn't work to stop young people from having sex to tell them that sex is icky and disgusting and frightening and that you should save it for the people you love the most.  Indeed, given how teenagers think it's like telling them about something really fun they should try.

Abstinence has never been a policy that works for the majority of human beings.  We could learn that from this awesome thing called "history," but conservatives are very weird about history, so they decided to reinvent an L-shaped wheel again.*

Well, there was also the money motive.  A lot of abstinence-only educators got wealthy from the various governmental blessings of their creed.

In any case, one school using nothing but abstinence-only education for sex has an epidemic of chlamydia, and now the headmaster is trying to rethink this L-shaped wheel:

The superintendent of schools in Crane, Texas is rethinking the districts sexual education curriculum, after learning that 20 of the high schools 300 students have tested positive for chlamydia.
Jim Rummage told television station KFOR, "We do have an abstinence curriculum, and that evidently ain’t working. We need to do all we can, although it’s the parents’ responsibility to educate their kids on sexual education.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isn't mincing any words, calling the outbreak a health issue of epidemic proportions.

What troubles me about some of the debate of these issues is that there are people who privilege the abstinence-only education over its likely negative consequences.  It's good enough for them that children were told to keep those pants zipped up.  What happens if the command fails might even satisfy those individuals, because the proper punishment for illicit sex is doled out.

*Reinventing the wheel can make a difference when something essential changes, such as the introduction of brand new materials.  But this is not the case with the abstinence-only education.  If anything, the old reasons for abstinence are weaker today, because there is contraception.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan. Stoning Adulterers. A Gendered Analysis.

The Taliban stoning story in the New York Times is  upsetting on many levels.  It describes the torture and murder of Rukhshana,  a nineteen-year-old woman, and notes that a very important pro-government cleric in Afghanistan both condones the stoning and will lead the team that investigates its legality!  According to  Maulavi Inayatullah Baleegh, a pro-government mullah with lots of power, the stoning of adulterers is necessary:

 “If you’re married and you commit adultery, you have to be stoned,” said the mullah, Maulavi Inayatullah Baleegh, during his sermon at Pul-e Khishti mosque, Kabul’s biggest, on Friday. “The only question was whether this was done according to Shariah law, with witnesses or confessions as required,” he said. “It is necessary to protect and safeguard the honor of women in society, as it was done in the past during the time of the prophet.”

Bolds are mine.  To understand what is being said, note that the word "honor" is used just as it is used in the term "honor killings."  It should also be noted that on paper stoning is illegal in Afghanistan, but as the above quote demonstrates, many regard it as the correct punishment.

It's not a good thing for women, that honor, though losing it is a very bad thing for them.  The honor Baleegh preaches about is the family honor.  In many Mediterranean cultures it was once seen as deposited in the vaginas of the family's women.  Men could do most things they wished, however unethical, but even a raped woman destroyed that safety deposit of the family honor.  So she had to die.  And any adulterous woman certainly had to die.  That's how the family's honor could be defended.

This custom then became ossified in the Shariah, because of the times when it was taken down and because it was then closed for all further adjustment.  That's why the above quote suggests, to me*, a Wahhabist view of Islam, one in which only the oldest traditions must be maintained, one in which the culture and manners from thousands of years ago are ossified as divine law. 

Let's look at the gendered aspects of stoning in the NYT story**:

The governor of Ghor Province, Seema Joyenda, one of only two female governors in Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, said that Rukhshana had left her husband, but only because she had been illegally forced to marry him.
As a child, she had been engaged to a different, much older man. But when she reached marriageable age, she refused the union and ran away with Mr. Gul instead.
“Rukhshana was a pretty girl and had studied until Grade 6,” Governor Joyenda said. “She was literate and pretty, that was why everyone wanted to marry her, but she would not allow herself to be married to anyone against her will.”

Caught and brought back to her village, she still refused the first arranged marriage, so as punishment her family forced her instead to become the third wife of a 55-year-old man. Again, she ran away with Mr. Gul, and again they were caught.
Since Mr. Gul was not himself married, he was given the lesser punishment of 100 lashes and sent home, where a relative said he was still recovering from his wounds. (The relative, reached by telephone, asked not to be named because of fear of Taliban reprisals.) Because Rukhshana, who goes by just one name, was married, the Taliban condemned her to death by stoning.

How would this story have changed had Rukhshana been a man?

First, she (now he) might not have been forced into a planned marriage in the first place.

Second, she (now he) could have used that neat device Shariah has for men, if interpreted in the ossified way:  She could have taken Mr. Gul (now Ms. Gul) in marriage as the second wife.  Presto!  No adultery is taking place.  Case closed. (Note that women cannot have second or third or fourth husbands under Shariah.  All that would be adultery, the women would be stoned, the second etc. husbands would be flogged as they would be deemed unmarried.)

Third,  even if this male version of Rukhshana had already married four women before wanting Ms. Gul, the Shariah would let her (now him) divorce as many of them as instantly and as without cause as she (now he) wished, thus making space for Mr. Gul (now Ms. Gul).  (Note that it's very difficult for women to initiate divorce in most interpretations of the Shariah, whereas men can do so without a reason.)

Neat, eh?  The point I'm making is that the treatment of men and women in the Shariah is inherently unequal in most aspects.  This makes the ossified legal use of Shariah very dangerous for women, and it gives much more scope for married men to avoid being stoned to death for adultery.  Married men can be caught for adultery under the law and stoned to death, sure.  But they have quite a few legal devices for avoiding that.

The "Meanwhile"-series of posts on this blog puts together news about negative events concerning women's rights and status from various parts of this globe.

This post is based on the assumption that the NYT story is correct in its factual assertions.

* More on stoning for adultery in the past can be found here and in the context of Islamic schools of law here. The second source suggests that all important schools interpreting the Shariah agree on stoning as the correct punishment, however, so I may have been overly optimistic in regarding this as a purely Wahhabist interpretation.

**   The victim, Rukshana, died at the age of nineteen by having large rocks thrown at her head.  The rest of her body was buried in the ground.  That made it impossible for her to run away, could she have otherwise done so.

I have read, though I have not been able to verify, that a victim to be stoned will be saved if he/she manages to get out of the hole and run away.  The same context stated that women are buried deeper than men.  This would mean that women are much less likely than men to be able to dig themselves out of the hole.