Last summer, when Ariel Castro was on trial in Ohio for kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder, he made an unusual request to the judge: He wanted parental rights to visit the six-year-old daughter he had conceived through rape. Given the magnitude of the charges—Castro was ultimately sentenced to life without parole, plus 1,000 years in prison, before committing suicide in September—the judge denied the request. But Ohio has no law on the books preventing alleged or convicted rapists from seizing parental rights of the children they may have conceived through rape. That could soon change. Last week, the Ohio House of Representatives unanimouslypassed a bill, inspired by Castro, that would prevent this scenario in the future. And Ohio isn't the only state to take action on this. If Ohio enacts the bill, it will join a number of other states that have done so in the last year: Arkansas, Colorado,Florida, and Illinois. There is also a bipartisan bill pending in the House that would give financial incentives to states that pass these laws.
"I think it's great that more states are getting on board and passing legislation addressing the parental rights of men who father through rape," says Shauna Prewitt, a Chicago lawyer. She says her daughter was conceived through rape, and the father attempted to seize custody rights while she was pressing charges against him. "We've seen a sharp uptick in interest, which I largely contribute to states finally understanding that this is a real problem."
The Ohio bill, if signed into law, would make it so that rapists are unable to seize inheritance or parental rights of children they conceived through the rape (they do, however, still have to pay child support). A spokesperson for Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio, a Democrat who is one the bill's sponsors, says that she expects the legislation to be referred to a Senate committee as soon as this week.
At least 24 states now have laws addressing the custody of children conceived through rape. Two additional states have provisions on the issue that only apply if the victim is a minor or, in one of those cases, a stepchild or adopted child of the rapist. Another three states don't explicitly address conception, but restrict the parental rights of a father or mother who sexually abused the other parent. And among those states that do have laws, many require proof of conviction, or have unique exceptions to the rule. Utah, for example, allows convicted rapists to continue sharing custody if they are living with the mother and the child. Here's a map showing the breakdown of these laws by state (click on each state for more information):
On Tuesday, a federal grand jury indicted former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on 14 counts related to gifts the couple accepted from a businessman looking to curry favor with the McDonnell administration. McDonnell, whose one term in office expired in early January, was once considered a possible Republican vice presidential candidate before reports of his dealings with businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. cast a shadow over his last year-and-half in office.
In a statement, McDonnell apologized for his actions but maintained that he never did anything illegal: "I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of which have been repaid with interest, and I have apologized for my poor judgment for which I take full responsibility. However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship. I never promised—and Mr. Williams and his company never received—any government benefit of any kind from me or my Administration. We did not violate the law, and I will use every available resource and advocate I have for as long as it takes to fight these false allegations, and to prevail against this unjust overreach of the federal government."
Here's everything you need to know:
Who's Jonnie R. Williams Sr.? Until December, Williams was the CEO of Star Scientific, Inc., a dietary supplements company. The company's main products are Anatabloc—an anti-inflammatory supplement derived from tobacco plants—and smoking-cessation product CigRx. According to the indictment, Williams forged a friendship with the the McDonnells starting in 2009, after he gave Bob McDonnell use of his private jet during his gubernatorial campaign. McDonnell and Williams soon discovered that they both had a lot in common, according to the Associated Press: They both have large families, started their careers in health services, and honeymooned at the same spot in Maine. This isn't the first time Williams has had a run-in with federal investigators: In 1993, the Securities and Exchange Commission fined him $300,000 for peddling false medical claims.
What did Williams get out of this? Authorities say that in exchange for gifts, the McDonnellslegitimized and promoted Star Scientific products. Among the allegations: In February 2011, Bob and Maureen McDonnell praised Star Scientific's products at a dinner the company held in an effort to convince doctors to prescribe CigRx to their patients. In August, 2011, the defendants hosted an event for the launch of Star Scientific's Anatabloc product at the Governor's Mansion; the invitees included some university researchers Star Scientific wanted to perform clinical trials of Anatabloc. In October 2011, Maureen McDonnell attended another Star Scientific dinner to lend her support to Anatabloc, according to the indictment.
Could this have been avoided if the McDonnells had been nicer to their staff? Maybe. Things began to fall apart when the couple's chef, Todd Schneider, was accused of stealing food in 2012. Schneider denied any wrongdoing, instead implicating the McDonnell family themselves as the culprits. Upset about his treatment, he turned over a pile of documents revealing the tip of the iceberg of the family’s financially cozy relationship with Williams.
What will happen to McDonnell if he's found guilty? Per the Richmond Times Dispatch, the charges could put the couple behind bars for decades and carry a fine of more than $1 million. But prominent political couples don't normally receive maximum sentences. Top Virginia politicians in both parties have, at McDonnell’s request, lobbied the Department of Justice to go easy on him.
Is there a silver lining? If recent history is an indication, he'll probably get a reality show. Former Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich was indicted in 2009 for attempting to sell President Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat. He was convicted one year later and is currently serving a 14-year sentence—but not before his wife, Patricia, raised funds for his legal fees by starring in the show I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, who served six years in prison over federal corruption charges, landed a post-penitentiary gig as the co-star of short-lived A&E series The Governor's Wife.
On Friday, President Obama released his plan to reform the NSA's sweeping surveillance program. Obama offered much praise for the NSA, and he's not ending the agency's controversial bulk collection program, which scoops up information about Americans' telephone calls. But he is making substantial changes to how the program currently runs, indicating that he may be more willing to risk the ire of the intelligence community for the sake of transparency reforms, than he's been in the past. Many oversight questions, though, are still being left to the intelligence community, and the reforms Obama announced on Friday only address a sliver of the surveillance issues raised by the Snowden leaks. Most notably, the president did not address many of the internet-related revelations produced by the Snowden documents. But he tried to offer some real reform to civil libertarians (though hardly meeting the demands for widespread changes) while providing much support to the intelligence community, which will not likely cheer the reforms the president is implementing.
Bulk Phone Records Collection: Not Going Away, But More Hurdles for the NSA
The biggest change announced on Friday deals with the government's practice of sweeping up Americans' phone records in bulk—a practice that 60 percent of Americans oppose. Privacy advocates had hoped that Obama would take this opportunity to end the program. Instead, he announced that he'll be making some big changes to how it operates. He ordered the attorney general and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to implement a system in which NSA analysts must get approval from the FISA court to search the records. There will also be a new limit on the number of people the NSA can investigate via these records ("two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of three.") These are significant changes—ones that could ruffle feathers at the NSA, which has claimed that any changes to the program would undermine its ability to combat terrorism. However, the real test will be whether the judicial review process will be stringent enough to satisfy critics. In the past, the FISA court has been criticized as a "rubber stamp" court.
Bulk Phone Records Storage: Going Somewhere, No One Knows Where
Obama ordered the intelligence community and the attorney general to come up with a new way to store phone records collected under the program, without having the government hold on to this data. This certainly will create some hurdles for the NSA, but it doesn't mean that the NSA is no longer permitted to collect telephone records. It's just about how they'll be stored. While the intelligence community has to come up with recommendations before March 28, it's entirely unclear when this policy will be implemented, because no third-party outside of phone companies—which have indicated they don't want this responsibility—really exists.
National Security Letters: Less Secret, Still No Judicial Oversight
Obama is making some modest changes to the process by which the government can use National Security Letters to compel businesses to secretly provide private records to federal investigators. Companies will now be able to disclose these requests—but at some yet-to-be determined point. The specifics are up to the attorney general. Privacy advocates will undoubtedly be disappointed by the fact that Obama is refusing to require judicial review before the government issues these secret orders.
The Top-Secret Spy Court: More Transparency, But Congress Should Figure It Out
Obama is asking the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to annually review which decisions made by the FISA court can be declassified. He is also asking Congress to put together a panel of advocates that will provide an independent voice in "significant cases before the court." This is not quite as strong as having an in-house privacy advocate on every case, but it's a serious change.
And...that's pretty much it. Obama's reforms don't cover reports that the NSA has been working to undermine the internet's encryption—such as by hacking into Google—and don't entail a major overhaul of Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which governs PRISM, the program that's been accused of sweeping up internet communications. So it seems that any kind of online surveillance the government may be carrying out, will remain largely intact: "We’d hoped for, and the internet deserves, more," says Alex Fowler, global privacy and policy leader at Mozilla. "We’re concerned that the President didn’t address the most glaring reform needs."
Obama maintains that there have been no alleged abuses of the telephone records collection program, which contradicts what the top-secret spy court has found. But his reforms indicate a greater willingness to reconsider aspects of the NSA's surveillance programs, and they've somewhat exceeded expectations. He does say these reforms are only a start, which might be a small comfort to privacy advocates who are looking for much more.
To Montanans, Missoula is a college town of about 68,000 with a laid-back, hippie vibe. But elsewhere, Missoula is also known as the "rape capital" of the country.
Between January 2008 and May 2012, Missoula police received more than 350 sexual-assault reports, including multiple cases of assault allegedly committed by University of Montana football players. The US Department of Justice found that city officials did not adequately handle all of these reports—going so far as to charge that police were using "sex-based stereotypes" to discriminate against women who reported rape. Last month, the Justice Department proposed an agreement that would require the Missoula County Attorney's office to make a number of changes. The DOJ recommended adding two or three new staff positions, including an advocate for victims; ramping up training for county supervisors and prosecutors; and collecting more data on sexual-assault cases, including feedback from victims. Last week, the county's chief prosecutor rejected the offer and told the feds to take a hike, insisting they have no authority to tell his office what to do.
"The DOJ is clearly overstepping in the investigation of my office," Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg tells Mother Jones. "The Missoula Police Department and our office have done a very good job of handling sexual-assault allegations regardless of what national and local news accounts may indicate."
Missoula's rape problem rose to national attention when six members of the University of Montana football team, the Grizzlies, were accused of committing, attempting, or helping cover-up sexual assault between 2009 and 2012. In March 2012, facing scrutiny over how it was handling assault allegations leveled against athletes, the university fired its football coach and athletic director. In May 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder said he was launching a federal investigation into whether Missoula officials and the university were discriminating against female rape victims, noting he foundthe allegations "very disturbing."
In May 2013, the Justice Department released findings from its investigation, indicating officials in Missoula were indeed discriminating against female victims in sexual-assault cases. For example, according to the Justice Department's report, one Missoula detective allegedly told a woman who said she was vomiting during her sexual assault—she was allegedly raped by several people—that "she might have had a case if if she had been unconscious during the rape rather than merely incapacitated." In another case where a woman reported vaginal and anal rape, a detective reportedly asked her why she hadn't fought harder, saying, "Tell me the truth—is this something we want to go through with?" (Van Valkenburg says, "Both our office and the police are very much aware of what is necessary to legally prove that a woman who is incapacitated by alcohol and/or drugs did not consent to a sexual act. Local prosecutors fully understand these issues.") The Justice Department also determined that the Missoula attorney's office provides "no information" to local police as to why it declines to prosecute sexual assault cases and police are "frustrated" with the "lack of follow-up and prosecution." (Missoula Police Captain Mike Coyler says, "As a general rule, I disagree with this.")
The month it released those findings, the Justice Department entered into agreements with the University of Montana and the Missoula Police Department to beef up resources to combat rape. (Lucy France, legal counsel for the university, says that she disagrees with the Justice Department's findings that the university discriminated against victims and botched investigations, but "we agreed to work to continue to improve our responses to reports.") Last month, the US Attorney for Montana proposed that the Missoula County Attorney's office enter a similar agreement to ensure that it responds to sexual assault without discrimination. In response, Van Valkenburg wrote in a January 9 letter that his office would commit to help the police department and the university meet their commitments—but he wouldn't make the Justice Department's recommended changes to his office.
"Missoula County Attorneys Office does not need to enter into an agreement with DOJ to protect victims of sexual assault, [we have] actively assisted victims for years," Van Valkenburg wrote, arguing that the two federal statutes that the Justice Department cites—one of which deals with gender discrimination—do not legally justify imposing changes on his office. The prosecutor is correct that the Justice Department can't force recommendations on the office, says Christopher Mallios, an attorney adviser for AEquitas, which receives funding from the Department of Justice to help local prosecutors better handle sexual-violence cases. But he adds, that if the Justice Department is able to prove civil rights violations in court, a judge could enforce them. Van Valkenburg says that his office is already meeting many of the Justice Department's demands, and even if he had the funding, he wouldn't add the three new staff members the feds want, because they'd represent "a duplication of services" provided by other city units. Van Valkenburg says if the Justice Department doesn't back off in the next two weeks, he will take the issue to federal court.
"I'm not aware of another case where a prosecutor said we would rather litigate and go to trial than make some changes," Mallios says. And other experts say the prosecutor's response is unusual: "No prosecutor wants to admit that they have shortcomings, especially on such a sensitive issue," says Sarah Deer, who worked for the Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. "But there is a culture in some offices that sexual assault is sort of overstated or victims tend to lie. That might be what's going on here—a culture of indifference."
On Friday, President Barack Obama is expected to unveil changes to the National Security Agency's sweeping surveillance programs. The announcement comes weeks after a post-Snowden advisory panel appointed by the president issued a whopping 300-plus pages of pro-transparency recommendations that, if taken up, would radically alter how the NSA does business. But according to earlyreports, Obama will only be implementing small reforms. He will punt the bigger decisions to Congress—with the hope of partially appeasing lawmakers, voters, privacy advocates, and the national security community. From the looks of it, pretty much everyone is going to be mad at him.
If Obama Lets the NSA Continue Sweeping Up Vast Information on Americans' Phone Calls…
Right now, the NSA collects Americans' phone metadata in bulk.(Metadata, which includes call dates and phone numbers, is revealing, but it doesn't include the contents of the actual conversations.) For privacy advocates, ceasing the practice is a top priority. "Ending bulk collection is essential to effective reform," says Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology Center. "I can't imagine anyone who's concerned about these programs is going to be satisfied by a bunch of cosmetic tweaks that leave bulk collection in place," adds Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. The conservative activist group FreedomWorks will also be mad if Obama doesn't repeal bulk surveillance. "The NSA's unconstitutional surveillance must be stopped to safeguard our civil liberties," the group writes. Julie Borowski, policy analyst for FreedomWorks, said in a press call on Thursday that the group supports the USA Freedom Act, which would end bulk collection of phone data.
Obama's advisory panel recommended the government accede to privacy activists' demands and terminate the NSA's expansive collection and storage of phone metadata. The panel proposed that a party other than the government, such as a phone company, hold on to Americans' phone records, and it suggested that the NSA should have to seek a court order to access that data. (The NSA currently doesn't need a judge's permission each time it dips into this data.) But civil liberties advocates should prepare to be disappointed. TheNew York Timesreported that Obama will not end this bulk collection of phone metadata. Nor is Obama likely to accept the panel's recommendation that phone companies become the guardians of this trove of data. It appears he will leave the big decisions regarding phone metadata to a polarized Congress, which is currently fighting over two bills. One introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. James SensenbrennerJr. (R-Wis.) would end bulk collection, and another, from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), would codify the practice.
If Obama Imposes Modest Limits on the NSA's Telephone Metadata Collection Program…
Who gets mad? The NSA, Feinstein, and other members of Congress
The NSA will be happy if, as expected, Obama okays its continued collection of bulk phone metadata. However, he may well make somemodest changes to this program, according to the New York Times, such as cutting back the number of people whose phone records the NSA can look at and limiting the time the NSA can hold on to the records. Even such slight reforms will upset folks in the intelligence community. According to the Times, "Some [intelligence] officials complained that [Obama's] changes will add layers of cumbersome procedure that will hinder the hunt for potential terrorists." Some members of Congress also oppose modest limits to the NSA's collection powers.
If Obama Allows the NSA to Continue Hacking Internet Encryption…
Who gets mad? Tech geeks, Lavabit, Google engineers, and journalists
The NSA will be delighted if Obama eschews his panel's recommendation that the agency cease undermining the encryption and security of tech companies, as leaked documents have revealed. It's not clear yet what Obama administration will do regarding this recommendation. But if doesn't restrain the NSA on this front, tech geeks everywhere will be angry. When the news broke in October that the NSA had hacked into Google, a security engineer for the company wrote, "Fuck these guys." (Google and other tech companies have since bulked up their encryption to keep out the NSA.) Many journalists and lawyers also rely on the promise of secure encryption to do their jobs. They're hoping that the president sides with civil libertarians and members of the tech industry who want to make sure that the NSA does not have the authority to defeat all forms of encryption.
If Obama Reforms the Top-Secret Spy Court…
Who gets mad? The top-secret spy court and the NSA
Some judges will no doubt be outraged if Obama makes any changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, the top-secret spy court that approves or denies many of the government's surveillance requests. Obama is expected to appoint a privacy advocate to advise the court on civil liberties issues. But on January 13, US district Judge John Bates, the former presiding judge of the FISA court, wrote in a public letter that "a privacy advocate is unnecessary." Bates also decried the presidential panel's recommendation that the government require judicial approval for all National Security Letters—secret requests the FBI and other government agencies use to force businesses to hand over records. According to Bates, subjecting these requests to the FISA court's scrutiny would be a "detriment to [the court's] current responsibilities." (If the FISA court emerges untouched by Obama's reforms, privacy advocates will be irate.)
Obama faces a tricky challenge. He clearly believes some NSA reform is necessary, yet, for good or bad, he doesn't want to alienate the intelligence community. This might lead him to a position that does not produce sufficient change to allay the concerns of techies, civil libertarians, and Americans who worry the surveillance state has gone too far—but still manages to tick off the intelligence officials he counts on to defend the nation; and the national security hawks on and off Capitol Hill who are always ready to assail the president. Obama has often talked about the need to balance national security and civil liberties. His effort to deal with the Snowden-promptedNSA scandal shows how tough a political task that is for him.