Testimony In Support of the Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017 | January 30, 2018

Good Afternoon, my name is C. Nicole Mason, and I am the Vice President of Programs at the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, home to the Young Women’s Initiative–our city-wide effort to improve life outcomes and chances for young women and girls of color in the District. As a part of Young Women’s Initiative, I also facilitate the Young Women’s Advisory Council, a bi-weekly group made up of 21 young women and girls of color between the ages of 12-24 that reside in the City.

Needless to say, I have a personal interest in making sure that every child regardless of her race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status is in the best position to succeed and have her social, emotional and educational needs met while in school, and on a daily basis. Currently, this is not the case.

As you know, In-school disciplinary actions and suspension rates among Black and Latina girls and young women are alarmingly high compared to other girls in the District. Black girls are nine times more likely to receive at least one out-of-school suspension, compared to non-Black girls. Less than 0.2 percent of White, non-Hispanic girls in DC receive an out-of-school suspension.

When the Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017 was introduced by Council Member Grosso, we at the Foundation believed it was an opportunity for the City to address glaring disparities in out-of-school suspensions, create uniform standards across District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), encourage positive approaches and the use of evidence-based and promising practices to discipline in schools, and to curb out-of-school suspensions for minor offenses.

Passing the legislation would put the City on a path to increased educational parity and equity for the most vulnerable students in our system.

When I discussed the bill with our Young Women’s Advisory Board, they were fully supportive of the legislation. Of the 21 girls on the Council, more than half reported that they had been suspended once or more; many for minor infractions ranging from dress code violations to talking back to a school official. Most of the young women that had been suspended believed they had very little recourse to dispute the suspension and struggled, in some instances, with the arbitrary enforcement of rules.

One story from our meeting relayed by one of our Fellows was truly heartbreaking and strikes at the core of why I believe this legislation is so urgent and necessary. One of our Fellows, now a recent graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia and current DCPS school teacher was suspended for bringing a knife to school when she was in the 12th grade. When she went through the metal detector at her school in the District, the alarm sounded and her backpack was searched.

Upon further investigation, it was revealed that she was homeless, and worked nights at a local Burger King restaurant. Most nights she would get off work extremely late, and carried the knife for protection as she made her way from Burger King to the local shelter where she lived. She forgot to remove the knife from her backpack before school. Rather than expel her, she was given a 10-day suspension.

I think we have to ask ourselves, was this just? Knowing the situation, could there have been an alternative that would have kept her in school and engaged? More importantly, how can we work to ensure that we are meeting the needs of students and not applying a one size fits all solution to a problem that is multi-layered and complex? I believe the Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017 helps us do just that.

Thank you for this opportunity to submit this testimony.


Women’s History Month Q&A – March 17, 2014

Q: Who is the first female chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia?

A: Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier. Chief Lanier hails from Tuxedo, Maryland in Prince George’s County and is a strong leader and inspiration to many. Lanier left school when she became a mother at the age of 15. She went on to pursue her GED at the University of the District of Columbia and continued her studies there and at Prince George’s Community College. Lanier has both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in management from Johns Hopkins University and holds a Master of Arts in national security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Lanier became Chief of Police in 2007 and during her tenure has seen a 53 percent reduction in homicides, ending the year of 2012 with a total not seen since 1961.

Forget the Commercials: Why Activists Are Using the Super Bowl to Get Your Attention

Anti-human-trafficking-super-bowlThis Sunday, more than 100 million pairs of eyes will be on New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, where the Broncos and Seahawks will meet for Super Bowl XLVIII. Just outside the stadium – but a world away from the lights and cameras – some of this country’s most vulnerable women and girls will be forced to work as part of the modern day slave trade. Worldwide, sporting events attract a flood of human traffickers and here in the US, the Super Bowl has been called “the single largest human trafficking incident” in the country.

With so much attention focused on one place, we have a rare opportunity to advocate for and support the women and girls whose circumstances are too often ignored or unrecognized. Traffickers force or coerce victims into labor, services, or commercial sex acts, and they target vulnerable populations, like women who live in poverty, runaway and homeless youth, and undocumented immigrants.

While trafficking can happen to anyone, women and children are far more likely to be the victims of trafficking: a report from Polaris Project, an organization that fights modern day slavery, found that 85% of sex trafficking cases and 60% of labor cases referenced women as the victims. The University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Center states simply that, “at its core, trafficking is a result of women’s unequal economic status.”

In New Jersey, advocates are conducting trainings for transportation and hospitality workers and using street outreach efforts to help people recognize the signs of trafficking and help those who may be victims. Law enforcement officials have stepped up their efforts as well, and this week the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on preventing trafficking at major sporting events.

One of the women who testified at the hearing was Holly Smith, a survivor of child sex trafficking. It was 1992 and Holly was 14 when a man she met at a mall convinced her to run away from home, promising her the life she dreamed of. “Within hours of running away,” she testified, “I was forced into prostitution on the streets and in the casino hotels and motels of Atlantic City, New Jersey.”

Within a couple of days, she was arrested and “treated like a criminal.” For years after that, she said she didn’t realize that other women and girls around the world shared her experience until she watched a documentary about it. Now, she wonders if campaigns, media attention and public concern around the 1992 Super Bowl may have heightened awareness and prevented her situation.

Whether you are headed to New Jersey for the big game this weekend or not, there are potential indicators of human trafficking that can help you recognize warning signs wherever you are. According to Polaris Project, potential victims may:

– Be fearful, anxious, tense, nervous or paranoid

– Exhibit unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement

– Show signs of physical abuse, restraint, confinement or torture

– Not be in control of her/his own money and/or identification

– Not be allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating).

Polaris Project has a more comprehensive list here. If you see any of these red flags, you are encouraged to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 888-373-7888 or send a text to BeFree (233733).

So while you excitedly cheer on your favorite teams this weekend, be mindful that human trafficking thrives on the chaos and celebration of the Super Bowl and similar events. By being educated and vigilant, we can be advocates for women and girls, and work together to make sure that no children have to go through what Holly Smith experienced.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

DC FlagIn today’s rundown: How DC’s sexual assault and domestic violence services will be affected by a budget shortfall. | Why Congress should pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. | Women’s role in Passover.

— Amanda Hess at TBD.com takes a look at how sexual assault and domestic violence services will be affected by a budget shortfall in D.C.  Hess quotes executive directors from Women Empowered Against Violence and My Sister’s Place, two Women’s Foundation Grantee Partners.

— “Fair pay is a bread-and-butter issue,” writes AAUW’s Lisa Maatz in The Hill. Maatz writes about how passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would go a long way in ensuring pay equity.

— In honor of Passover, the Citrus County Chronicle‘s Judi Siegal takes a look at five women associated with the Passover story.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

In today’s rundown: A Grantee Partner on the Kojo Nnamdi Show.  |  Local prep schools plan to take action when it comes to relationship violence.  |  What the Giving Pledge has to do with you.

— Tune in to the Kojo Nnamdi Show this afternoon to hear Capital Area Asset Builders’ (a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner) Savings Program Director discuss economic security during the “Great Recession.”  Emily Appel will be on WAMU 88.5 at around 1 p.m.

— Deans from local private high schools will get together in October to discuss a crackdown on relationship violence after one former prep school student was allegedly killed by another.  The meeting is in response to the May beating death of 22-year-old University of Virginia student Yeardley Love.  Her former boyfriend has been charged with her murder.

— 40 billionaires have committed to the Giving Pledge, promising to donate at least half of their money to charitable causes.  Can those of us who aren’t billionaires follow their examples?  Philanthropic Capital Advisors’ Stephanie Risa Stein says “charitable giving is a basic value for everyone, not only for the wealthy….”

Craigslist: "The Wal-Mart of Online Sex Trafficking"

Craigslist adEarlier this week, a report aired on Anderson Cooper 360 that was both shocking in the information it revealed about local human and sex trafficking and disturbing in how little was being done to prevent it.

The report was about the role that the online classified site Craigslist plays in sex trafficking, and it featured The Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner FAIR Fund.  In fact, the entire report took place in the D.C. area because, according to the show, D.C. is one of the busiest cities for online prostitution in the country.

Among the other disturbing revelations:

  • “Craigslist is like the Wal-Mart of online sex trafficking right now in this country,” according to FAIR Fund’s Andrea Powell.
  • Police say the internet is now the preferred method when it comes to selling women for sex.
  • Craigslist is one of the most popular websites that offers an “adult services” section.
  • Last year, Craiglist announced that ads were being manually screen and that suspected underage girls would be reported to law enforcement. But according to D.C. police, they’ve never been contacted by Craigslist regarding “adult services” ads that appeared to be from or about underage girls, even though CNN found a number of ads online with words that suggested youth.

A Powerful Silence

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark was confronted during CNN’s story, but he had very little to say and was literally speechless when asked what his company was doing to help the underage girls who were being prostituted on the website he created.

In a commentary posted on CNN.com, Malika Saada Saar, founder of another Women’s Foundation grantee, The Rebecca Project, writes that “an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 children are sold for sex every year in the United States. Most are from 11 and 14 years old.”  Saada Saar also tells the story of a girl who was forced into prostitution at the age of 11.  The men who had sex with her answered a Craigslist ad.  When the girl wrote a letter to Craig Newmark about her experience, she received no answer.

Newmark’s silence speaks volumes.  While it’s admirable that Craigslist has said in online commentaries like this one they’re committed to screening all of their ads, it means nothing because it’s not being done effectively.  One would think that Craigslist’s methods are broken, that they need a fix.  But the problem is that the “adult services” section works for Craigslist.  It’s projected that this year Craigslist will make $36 million from adult ads – 30 percent of their 2010 profit coming from that one section of the site.  Fiscally speaking, “adult services” ain’t broke, which may be why the company is hesitant to mess with it.

Time for Change

It’s time, though, for Craig to separate himself from Craigslist.  And by that I mean stop thinking like a company, and start thinking like a person – a person who is responsible for himself, his fellow human beings and who shouldn’t allow what is a pretty great invention to be abused by people who seek to harm and exploit others.

It’s time for the police to track down and arrest more men who are going online to find underage girls, as well as the men who are exploiting these girls on the internet.  It’s time for all of us to become better educated about what’s going on in our communities, both online and off.

I’ve been a part of the Craiglist community for years.  I’ve gotten jobs and freelance opportunities from the site.  I’ve used it to find apartments and roommates.  I’ve made money by selling off some of my furniture every time I move (which is often).  I’ve hired people I’ve found through Craigslist.  But I won’t be spending my money on the site again until Craigslist cracks down on that “adult services” section and shows us that those nice blog posts they write are more than just lip service.  That morals talk just as loud as money.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

In today’s rundown: More than a thousand people will be treated at D.C.’s largest free clinic this week.  |  How a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner is working with the humane society to get more women to leave violent situations.  |  Affordable housing advocates say there’s more the D.C. government can do to keep low-income tenants in their homes.

— Later this week, organizers will host D.C.’s first-ever large-scale free clinic.  The August 4th clinic, which will be held at the Washington Convention Center is still short about 200 volunteers.  1,200 uninsured patients from D.C., Maryland and Virginia are expected at Wednesday’s clinic.  Click here for more details.

— Doorways for Women and Families, a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner, is featured in this article about a joint project with the American Humane Society to ensure that women who are leaving a domestic violence situation have a safe place to keep their pets.  The Pets and Women’s Shelters (PAWS) program is the only one of its kind in Northern Virginia.

— Affordable housing advocates in D.C. are calling on the city to create a dedicated, local source of funding to help low-income tenants purchase and stay in their homes.  Click here to hear about their efforts.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

Money Woman_emdotIn today’s rundown: Women, along with everyone else, are confused by their finances.  |  Medicine may not be enough in the battle to fight HIV and AIDS.  |  A stalking victim comes to D.C. to push for tougher anti-stalking laws.

— A growing number of American women control the finances of their households, but many are not confident in their fiscal management abilities, according to a new study out this week. But as Jezebel.com points out, we’re not the only ones confused by finances.

— The news of a vaginal gel to prevent the transmission of HIV was hailed as a breakthrough when it was announced at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna last week.  But some argue that creating a medical solution to the spread of the virus isn’t enough.  They say it’s just as critical to find solutions to the social issues that surround HIV.  Click here for details.

— ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews was in D.C. this week to support the Simplifying the Ambiguous Law, Keeping Everyone Reliably Safe (STALKERS) Act of 2010.  The purpose of the bill is to strengthen current federal anti-stalking laws.  Andrews was stalked by a man who followed her across three states and filmed her through the peephole of her hotel room doors.  Click here to read more about the proposed legislation.

D.C. Government Slashes Funding for Some of the City's Most Vulnerable Women

Days after the District made the shocking announcement that $20 million had been cut from the homeless services budget for the 2010 fiscal year, advocates and organizations that provide shelter for the homeless are still reeling. One of The Women’s Foundation grantee partners is reaching out for help – as winter approaches and the organizations that assist the homeless face a crisis.

Calvary Women’s Services was notified Monday, September 28, by The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) that contract funding for Calvary would be cut by nearly $75,000 beginning October 1st.  These funds support safe housing and other services for 150 homeless women each year.  TCP is an independent, non-profit corporation that coordinates DC’s Continuum of Care homeless services.

Calvary is one of many social service providers notified of cuts to their existing contracts. Emergency, transitional and supported permanent housing programs were all targeted as the city attempted to close an ever-widening budget gap.  The impact of these cuts on the overall homeless services system is going to be severe, with some housing programs reducing their services and others likely closing programs. 

Although these cuts may provide some immediate relief to the city’s budget problems, the real impact of the cuts will be felt by those in need of safe housing and support services.  Women who have already lost their jobs in this economic crisis will have fewer services and housing options available to them. These cuts will make women who are already at-risk much more likely to end up living on the streets or in unsafe situations.

The women who come to programs like Calvary are survivors of violence, women struggling with mental illness, and women working to overcome addictions.  At Calvary we make sure they have access to all of the services they need to address these challenges – in addition to providing a safe place to live.

We know that programs like ours work.  Every five days a woman moves out of Calvary and into her own home.

We have always relied on the support of both public funding and private donations to make our programs possible.  In the past, supporters have helped us close gaps like this one, and I am hopeful that the community will step up once again.  But I am also concerned that this gap may be too wide for our generous donors to close.

The coming months will be challenging ones for organizations like Calvary, as we try to find ways to continue to provide women in this community with critical, life changing services.  More so, they will be challenging months for women who need services like ours, as they face closed doors and reduced services at programs across the city.

 You can make a difference.  Support Calvary – or another agency facing these cuts – today. 

 Volunteer, donate or learn more at www.calvaryservices.org.

Kris Thompson is the Executive Director of Calvary Women’s Services, recognized as a 2009 Leadership Awardee by The Women’s Foundation.  Learn more about them on their Web site or on Facebook.

Stepping Stones Research Update – September 2009

We’ve partnered with The Urban Institute to provide continuing information and resources related to the goals of Stepping Stones. Below you’ll find a summary of the latest research on issues of economic security and financial independence for women and their families. This research is summarized and compiled for The Women’s Foundation by Liza Getsinger of The Urban Institute, NeighborhoodInfo DC.

The following are excerpts of the research update.  For the full update, including summarized key findings, click here.

Financial Education and Wealth Creation News
The median household income in the District of Columbia rose from $56,400 in 2007 to $57,900 in 2008, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey; however, DC residents with the lowest levels of education saw their incomes fall significantly from 2007 to 2008. (Full text)

Jobs and Business Ownership News
One fifth of all families with children are headed by working single mothers. The families of single mothers have a high poverty rate – 28.3 percent. The persistent gender wage gap continues: in 2007, women who worked full-time, year-round earned only 78 cents for every dollar earned by full-time, year-round male workers. These findings suggest that a number of changes in policy and practice are needed to improve women’s earnings. You can read the details about these findings by clicking here.

Child Care and Early Education News
A new Child Trends research brief explores the issues that judges consider when making decisions about termination of parental rights (TPR) and adoption of foster children. Several judges reported that the absence of TPR limits the adoption recruitment efforts of the child welfare agency. Some judges report a need for more discussions with older children to explore and address their concerns about adoption. (Full text)

Health and Safety News
Today, there are about 1.1 million people with HIV/AIDS living in the U.S., including nearly 280,000 women. Women of color, particularly black women, are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. The impact of HIV on younger women is particularly notable – more than 6 in 10 new HIV infections among women were among those ages 13-39 in 2006. 76% of women with HIV/AIDS who were receiving medical care had children under 18 in their homes, which may complicate their ability to manage their illness. (Full text)

Other News and Research
The Urban Institute surveyed District permanent supportive housing (PSH) agencies and specific PSH projects. The research includes a look at how the District might move forward toward fulfilling its commitment to create 2,500 new units of PSH and eliminate chronic homelessness. (Full text)