Weekly Round-Up: News and Analysis on Women and Poverty (Week ending August 14, 2009)

Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, a national foundation-led initiative, is excited to collaborate with The Women’s Foundation to bring you the latest news and analysis on women and poverty.

Spotlight is the go-to site for news and ideas about fighting poverty.

For daily updates and links to past articles, check out “Women and Poverty.”  It’s a new section of our site with a comprehensive collection of recent news and analysis on women and poverty.

Along with these daily updates, continue to visit TheWomensFoundation.org for our weekly rundown of the top news stories on women and poverty every week.

Here’s this week’s news:

To learn more about Spotlight, visit www.spotlightonpoverty.org.  To sign up for our weekly updates with the latest news, opinion and research from around the country, click here.

The Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity Team

Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity is a foundation-led, non-partisan initiative aimed at ensuring that our political leaders take significant actions to reduce poverty and increase opportunity in the United States. We bring together diverse perspectives from the political, policy, advocacy and foundation communities to engage in an ongoing dialogue focused on finding genuine solutions to the economic hardship confronting millions of Americans.

Stepping Stones Research Update – July 2009

As part of our ongoing commitment – in partnership with The Urban Institute – to providing information and resources related to the goals of Stepping Stones, please find below a summary of recent research on issues of economic security and financial independence for women and their families. This research is summarized and complied for The Women’s Foundation by Liza Getsinger of The Urban Institute, NeighborhoodInfo DC.

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

Financial Education and Wealth Creation News

The National Council of Negro Women conducts a study to identify potential lending disparities in gender and race among African-American, Hispanic, and Caucasian borrowers, particularly as the foreclosure crisis spreads.  (Full text

Jobs and Business Ownership News

The Brookings Institution publishes research on the extent to which the recession has affected urban and suburban communities across the country and looks looks within the nation’s 100 largest metro areas to examine recent unemployment trends in their cities and suburbs. (Abstract) (Full text)

Child Care and Early Education News

A new Child Trends study commissioned by the Council of Chief State School Officers finds disparities between poor, at-risk children and more advantaged children as early as 9 months of age–extending prior research that primarily focuses on disparities at kindergarten entry and beyond. (Abstract) (Full text)

Health and Safety News

The Urban Institute identifies ways to reduce obesity using many of the same strategies used in the war against tobacco.  (Introduction) (Full text)

Other News and Research

The Economic Mobility Project investigates neighborhoods and the black-white mobility gap, including whether neighborhood poverty in childhood impacts the ability of both black and white adults to move up or down the income ladder relative to the position their parents held and whether changes in neighborhood poverty rates experienced by black children affected their adult incomes, earnings, and wealth. (Abstract) (Full text)

Ahead of the curve in fighting human trafficking in D.C.

I wanted to share a story from a recent case of human trafficking in D.C. that Polaris Project handled to show the impact of the work we’re doing and how The Women’s Foundation plays a role in it. 

Like many others, Rosa* was struggling to find employment.  While at the mall, Rosa was handed a business card and told about the opportunity to become a waitress. Rosa called the number and set up an interview.  When she arrived, she was pulled into a vehicle and taken to a brothel.  Rosa was forced into prostitution and suffered horrific abuse and threats. Thankfully, she found a moment to escape, ran outside, and flagged down a moving bus.  The driver called 9-1-1. Once the police arrived and identified Rosa as a trafficking victim, they immediately contacted our on-call staff to provide emergency assistance.

We provided Rosa with her first meal in three days and clothing and accompanied her to the hospital for treatment.  Rosa is steadily recovering.  She secured safe housing and hopes to reconnect with her family members living outside of the United States.

The Women’s Foundation has been really ahead of the curve in recognizing human trafficking as a grave danger to women and girls in our community and across the country. 

I wish that the story I provided was a rare case, but we help people in similar situations on a regular basis.  With the support of The Women’s Foundation, Polaris Project has helped 50 trafficking victims locally in 2009 and provided more than 850 nights of shelter through our transitional housing program in D.C.

The support The Women’s Foundation has provided has been really important to our local efforts.

*Name was changed to protect the identity of the client.

Tayler Wilhelm is the Senior Development Officer with Polaris Project, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation and winner of the 2009 Leadership Awards online vote.

Stepping Stones Research Update – June 2009

As part of our ongoing commitment – in partnership with The Urban Institute – to providing information and resources related to the goals of Stepping Stones, please find below a summary of recent research on issues of economic security and financial independence for women and their families. This research is summarized and complied for The Women’s Foundation by Liza Getsinger of The Urban Institute, NeighborhoodInfo DC.  

Financial Education and Wealth Creation News

The Urban Institute provides statistics on the work effort, earnings, health care access and other characteristics of low-income families. (Abstract) (Full Text)

 Jobs and Business Ownership News

The Brookings Institution investigates the accessibility of middle-wage jobs — good paying jobs for the less-educated workers — for those without bachelor’s degrees in 204 metropolitan areas. (Abstract) (Full Text)

Child Care and Early Education

The National Institute for Early Education Research examines the journeys of six states — Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Illinois, New York, and West Virginia — in achieving a plan for preschool for all. (Intro) (Full Text)

Health and Safety News

The Urban Institute explores the unique experiences of women exiting prison, focusing on a representative sample of 142 women who were released from Texas prisons and state jails in 2005 and returned to Houston communities. (Intro) (Full Text)

Other News and Research

The Urban Institute provides comprehensive data indicators and analysis on the state of older youth (age 12-24) in the District and examines  the role of area nonprofits that work with young people, their families, and neighborhoods. (Abstract) (Full Text)

DCAF honors the memory of Dr. Tiller, a trusted partner and ally in supporting women.

The DC Abortion Fund (DCAF) is devastated and appalled to know that our most skilled and intensely dedicated late-term abortion provider, a beloved partner to DCAF, Dr. George Tiller, was fatally shot in the lobby of his church in Wichita, Kansas on Sunday morning, May 31, 2009.

In the past eight months, DCAF pledged financial assistance to four uniquely challenged women—from Maryland, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia, as well as in Omaha, NE, to obtain a third-trimester termination from Dr. Tiller at Women’s Health Care Services in Wichita.

Two of the women were taking medications considered harmful to fetal development.  One attempted to self-abort countless times before reaching out—terrified because she came from New Guinea, where abortion is illegal.  One spent 10 weeks trying to raise money to afford her abortion before finding DCAF.
One patient was a fifteen-year-old sexual assault survivor who didn’t know she was pregnant until the beginning of the third trimester.  One of the women had diabetes and a fetal anomaly.

While heartbroken for the women we assisted, we found solace in knowing Dr. Tiller was willing to provide comprehensive care when there was no other option.

DCAF is eternally indebted to the legacy of boundless courage and compassionate health care offered whole-heartedly by this man who gently and faithfully urged us to trust and support women.  He truly exemplified reproductive justice for all by working tirelessly to accommodate struggling families all over the country.

In accordance with our respect for Dr. Tiller’s profound service to women, DCAF is grateful for our partner clinics and heroic providers–true warriors on the front lines, ensuring access to quality abortion care in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

In memory of our angelic and wise doctor and beyond the shadows of opposition, we remain determined in our mission to provide our neighbors with dignified health care regardless of what’s in their wallet.

Elisabeth Sowecke is the lead case manager at the DC Abortion Fund, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation.

Survivor blaming: South Africa and D.C. have more in common than you think.

A woman accuses an older, politically powerful man of raping her.  He denies the charges, and offers to pay her off to drop them. When she persists, his defense lawyers put her sexual history on trial, including her experience of child sexual assault. They accuse her of lying about being a lesbian. They add that her behavior, including sending him text messages and wearing revealing clothing, were an invitation for sex. Supporters of the perpetrator stand outside the courthouse with signs saying, “How much did they pay you, bitch?” He is acquitted and returns to his everyday life. She and her family are forced to relocate due to death threats.  Source.

It could be a snapshot from anywhere in the U.S., but this particular scene unfolded in South Africa between 2004 and 2006, and the accused was Jacob Zuma, who was inaugurated last week as South Africa’s new President.

This trial had another unfortunate twist: the accuser, nicknamed Khwezi (star) by her supporters, was HIV positive.  Despite his previous role as head of South Africa’s National AIDS Council, when asked the (irrelevant) question of whether he was worried about contracting HIV, Mr. Zuma testified that, "Chances were very slim you could get the disease” from having unprotected sex with an HIV positive woman, and that he showered after having sex with her to "minimize the risk of contracting the disease," grossly misleading statements that have perpetuated myths and possibly cost lives.

Despite a persistent cloud of scandal, Jacob Zuma has remained popular in South Africa due to his ties to Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement, his role as the country’s first post-apartheid Zulu leader, and what many describe as his charisma.

Regardless of the verdict – or whether it was rendered after a fair trial – Mr. Zuma’s response to the charges provide alarming evidence of how he will approach South Africa’s women – and particularly the growing pandemic of violence against women – during his term. Also disturbing is the lack of attention in domestic and international media to the rape accusation, Zuma’s response, and its implications.

South Africa has been called the rape capital of the world, with an estimated half a million women raped every year. It is also home to the highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world – approximately six million.

So why hasn’t Zuma’s complicity in perpetuating these twin pandemics prevented him from assuming leadership?

The short answer is democracy, and by all accounts this was a fair election. In fact, the African National Congress – Zuma’s party – won by nearly 50 percentage points. But as advocates of women’s health and empowerment in Washington, D.C., we should be concerned about the more difficult answer.

Because the women of D.C. are also suffering from the twin pandemics of violence and HIV/AIDS.

Survivor blaming at home

Recent surveys indicate that between 10-15 percent of women in the U.S. are raped in their lifetimes, while an additional three percent of women report surviving attempted rape (stats here and here).  This amounts to a woman being raped every two minutes in the U.S.

The statistics on sexual assault in D.C. are much harder to come by. 

According to the DC Metropolitan Police Department, there were 375 reported cases of sexual assault in 2008. 

But Denise Snyder, Executive Director of the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC), puts this statistic in perspective, explaining, “The general belief is that about 10 percent of rape survivors ever report the incident to police, so if you multiply this number by 10, you are probably getting closer to the truth in D.C.”

DCRCC’s rape crisis hotline received over 3,200 calls during the 2007-2008 fiscal year, but Snyder points out that crisis hotlines, “are not even the primary contact for most rape survivors, who are more likely to tell their family and friends after an incident occurs.”

There are many reasons for the overwhelming failure to prevent and address sexual violence globally, in the U.S., and in D.C. Unfortunately one of the most important reasons might be that policy-makers – and the public in general – just don’t believe its happening.

Survivor blaming is a term used by advocates and researchers working to combat sexual violence to describe the tendency – of law enforcement agencies, legal systems, and even family, friends and acquaintances – to doubt or blame the survivor of sexual violence.

In reality, it is very rare for a woman or man to lie about being raped. The Rape Crisis Federation of Europe estimates that false reports of rape occur at the same rate as other crimes – only about two percent of the time, which means that 98 out of 100 women and men are telling the truth when they say they were raped.  And it makes sense, given the continued re-traumatization that survivors must undergo when they do come forward, as evidenced by Jacob Zuma and his supporters’ treatment of Khwezi.

As a former volunteer hotline and hospital counselor for the DC Rape Crisis Center, I witnessed the devastating impact of survivor blaming on women and men in D.C. who were grappling with their experiences of sexual violence. The frequency with which I heard phrases such as, “Thank you for believing me”, or “Why did this happen to me?” underlined the all too common experience of disclosing an incident of sexual violence only to be met with doubt and blame.

A recent study conducted with U.S. college students found that negative social reactions (e.g. blame, stigmatization) of family members and friends toward a rape survivor reduced other people’s support, reduced blame for the perpetrator, and reduced sympathy for rape survivors in general.  The same study found that people were more likely to blame survivors of date rape than stranger rape, and that men were more likely to sympathize with the perpetrator than the rape survivor.

Another recent study, "Effects of Offender Motivation, Victim Gender, and Participant Gender on Perceptions of Rape Victims and Offenders"– also conducted with U.S. college students – found that participants were less likely to describe an event as rape and more likely to blame the victim when they were told the perpetrator’s motivation was sexual rather than violent.

Our tendency toward survivor blaming – often relieving the perpetrator of responsibility – goes a long way in explaining why so few incidents of sexual assault are ever reported to police.
As a rape crisis counselor, I was also responsible for having the difficult conversation with survivors about whether it was worth pressing charges, given the fact that only six percent of rapists ever spend a day in jail, and the inevitable negative impact on her or his life, including exposure of their sexual history and other destructive attempts by the perpetrator’s defenders to call their character into question.

Allowing this cycle of victimization to continue for survivors of sexual violence is unacceptable in itself.

More broadly, when survivors can’t come forward to a supportive and empowering environment, we as a community lose the opportunity to provide them with needed services, identify and convict rapists, and prevent sexual violence in the future.

So if we are serious about combating sexual violence, if we do not want to see one out of six women in the next generation spend their lives trying to recover from this trauma, then our first step must be to start believing the survivors.

Unfortunately, they are telling the truth.

As Khwezi insisted after (now President) Zuma was acquitted, “I am not mad. I am not incapable of understanding the difference between consensual and non-consensual sex. The fact that I have been raped multiple times does not make me mad.  It means there is something very wrong with our world and our society.

Stephanie Psaki has an MPh from the Harvard School of Public Health. In 2007, she spent two months in Durban, South Africa conducting research on women’s empowerment and sexual partnering behavior among university students. She also had the privilege of volunteering for the DC Rape Crisis Center, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation, as a hotline and hospital counselor from 2004 to 2006.

Sex trafficking continues to strike in our communities, as do solutions by local organizations.

Last week, New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristoff published a column on sex trafficking of young, American girls, stating, "The business model of pimping is remarkably similar whether in Atlanta or Calcutta: take vulnerable, disposable girls whom nobody cares about, use a mix of “friendship,” humiliation, beatings, narcotics and threats to break the girls and induce 100 percent compliance, and then rent out their body parts."

Eerily similar to a piece we posted here a while back discussing the work of our Grantee Partners fighting trafficking here in Washington, D.C., often on K Street, where The Women’s Foundation’s office is.

Oddly, the same day Kristof’s article was published, a timely reminder of how closely this issue continues to strike in my community hit my inbox, when Taylor Wilhelm, senior development officer with Polaris Project–a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation with work focused on combatting human trafficking–wrote to let us know of the powerful impact of their work. 

"Recently, a trafficker was brought to justice in a case that began with a call to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline, operated by Polaris Project," she wrote.  "On a Friday afternoon, a youth educator called the hotline when her local youth center experienced the unexplained disappearances of several children. We were able to work with the caller to identify a human trafficking network, to refer the case immediately to federal authorities, and to locate the lost children in a nearby State two weeks later. They were discovered to be part of a multi-state human trafficking ring."  (See the press release.) 

Tayler closed by saying, "We greatly appreciate the many ways you all support us to make successes like this more common!"

The Women’s Foundation is proud to partner with organizations like The Polaris Project, Fair Fund and Covenant House (mentioned in the Kristof piece), to combat sex trafficking and to be part of the solution. 

As Kristof writes, "Solutions are complicated and involve broader efforts to overcome urban poverty, including improving schools and attempting to shore up the family structure. But a first step is to stop treating these teenagers as criminals and focusing instead on arresting the pimps and the customers — and the corrupt cops."

Each of these organizations understands this and is effectively working to educate their communities about the realities of trafficking, to advocate for policies and safe houses to protect victims and to collaborate with school and law enforcement officials to prevent trafficking at the outset.

The Women’s Foundation is proud to support their efforts.

Lisa Kays is The Women’s Foundation’s Director of Communications.

DCAF: Recession nearly doubles requests for abortion assistance as resources dwindle.

Less than four years ago, I considered myself pro-choice, but I couldn’t tell you where to obtain an abortion in my northwestern-Ohio, college town.  In fact, the Planned Parenthood in Toledo (the nearest city to offer abortion services) could not offer abortion-care in order to receive state funding.  I naively assumed a woman seeking an abortion could have one at her doctor’s office or community clinic because she had the right to choose.  Period.

Today, I live in Washington, D.C. I am a communications associate at a reproductive health nonprofit, an abortion counselor at a women’s health clinic in Maryland and a case-manager for a local, grassroots abortion fund.

I can discuss the real-life avenues, barriers, freeways and alleyways to abortion-care access throughout this country.  If you have hours, perhaps days, I can lament and exalt in-depth stories of women who have abortions to preserve their health, dignity and the goodness in this world.

Everything I do in the reproductive justice movement is equally a basic human service and an act of privilege.  The women and families I serve deserve more than I, or this movement, can provide. 

Currently, there is no time for condolences and ritualized mourning, for discussing or attempting to prove what I know because women are homeless and jobless and still have children to feed. 

Meanwhile, they are assaulted, abandoned, ignored, denied and judged.

The DC Abortion Fund (DCAF) dedicates explanation, education, emotional support and vital financial assistance to women in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.  A dozen case-managers volunteer their time to field about 60 telephone calls per week, tailoring resources to each individual caller.  While every woman’s situation is unique, the recurring trends among our neighbors are undeniable.

Overwhelmingly, a woman seeking financial assistance for her surgery has less than $0 to her name, at least one child, no employment or a part-time job, and an apathetic man involved.  If her family does support her decision, they are often equally destitute, but contribute about $100 collectively.  She has nothing to sell or already sold it all to buy diapers or baby food a few months ago.  She will need to acquire anywhere from $250 to $7000 to have an abortion in her region.  She may opt to travel to Pennsylvania, New York or Atlanta, Georgia, where significantly lower surgery fees may off-set travel expenses.

In the past year, the need of those who reach out to the abortion fund has nearly doubled, and a modest, dedicated donor-circle replenishes the dwindling bank. 

As a case manager, I have told a crying 17-year-old with no parental support that DCAF will pay for the majority of her $3600 surgery, but I have also told a crying 17-year-old with no parental support that she will have to adjust to having her baby because our funds have been stretched and we have asked our supportive donors too often.

I foresee the situations of our neighbors getting worse in this financial climate before they get better. 

I fear one day she will have $0 and DCAF will have $0 to give her, and her life will grow even more disproportionately complicated.

I believe that when you give to your local abortion fund regularly, you profoundly simplify a potential mother’s life, giving her even the slightest bit more room to breathe, to recognize her potential in this life. 

In recognizing complexity, ambiguity and downright basic rights, you honor life by making reproductive justice a reality for every woman regardless of what’s in her wallet.

Elisabeth Sowecke is the lead case manager at the DC Abortion Fund, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation.

Congratulations to Polaris Project, winner of the online vote!

Last night, The Women’s Foundation hosted what is my favorite event of the year–the Leadership Awards Reception–where we presented each of our 10 amazing awardees this year with their certificates and announced the winner of this year’s online vote.

This year’s vote–the second we’ve done–was incredible.  Last year, we brought in 1,187 votes total

This year, the vote’s winner, Polaris Project, brought in 2,715 votes themselves, with a total of 8,538 votes being cast overall.

Polaris Project was selected as a 2009 Leadership Awardee for their DC Trafficking Intervention Program (DC TIP), which has combatted human trafficking in the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, and Southern Maryland Launched since 2002 by working to create an effective community-based response to curb local human trafficking network activity.  DC TIP provides comprehensive services to foreign national and U.S. citizen victims in the Washington metro area and works towards long-term, systemic change.

At the reception last night, Amb. Mark P. Lagan, Executive Director of Polaris Project, explained that Polaris Project is named after the North Star, otherwise known as Polaris, which guided slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.  Today, Polaris Project helps victims of all kinds of trafficking throughout the world to escape and rebuild their lives with dignity and hope. 

The Women’s Foundation congratulations Polaris Project for their outstanding work mobilizing support for the vote, and all of our 2009 Leadership Awardees for their awards and for the outstanding work they did to mobilize support for the vote and awareness of the transformational work they’re doing throughout our community to change the lives of women and girls. 

Lisa Kays is The Women’s Foundation’s Director of Communications.

Vote against slavery: why you should vote for Polaris Project!

“Good friend forgive me if I offend, I know I am not the only one with problems. I also understand that there are many people with greater problems than mines. But for you to take the time to consider mines, that I am most grateful. It is good that when one has climbed the ladder of success to the top, that he or she reaches down and help those that are not able to.” 
— YK

These are the opening lines of a letter I received earlier this week from a young women whose story is not unlike many of our own.  She came to Washington, DC seeking a better life with plans to get an advanced degree so that she could work with the poor and the oppressed, as she explained later in her letter.  She was excited to receive a job as a domestic worker, which would enable her to work towards her dreams.

What makes YK’s story different was that she was enslaved within the household, beaten, sexually assaulted, and prevented from leaving. 

YK is a survivor of human trafficking.

She was able to escape her situation through community support and currently is part of Polaris Project’s DC Trafficking Intervention Program (DC TIP).

Like YK, Janice* also had dreams that were exploited by a human trafficker.  When Janice was 12 years old, she should have been going to school and living the carefree life of other teenagers. However, after an older man offered to take care of her, Janice was forced into prostitution for five years and beaten each time she tried to leave.

Polaris Project was called in after a police investigation and began to provide Janice with food, clothing, and emotional support.  We also worked to reunite Janice with her family and she is enrolled in school.  Her trafficker was sentenced to prison and now Janice dreams of one day working in the criminal justice field.

While it is shocking that slavery can still exist in the 21st century, it is sobering to know that it is the third largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world.  The United Nations recently projected that human trafficking will only worsen with the state of the global economy.  Stories like YK’s and Janice’s show us that the face of human trafficking is often very personal and local, occurring in our own backyards. 

In fact, the FBI considers Washington, DC one of the top 14 sites in the country for the sex trafficking of American children.

When we started Polaris Project seven years ago, our mission was simple: find the victims, shape policy, and build a movement.

Interestingly, we began with a $5,000 seed grant from a local social entrepreneurship program and built an organization that has worked with more than 300 victims of human trafficking; testified before Congress four times to help pass landmark federal legislation (twice!); worked with legislators in D.C., VA, and MD to strengthen protections for victims; and, co-founded the DC Task Force on Human Trafficking in partnership with the D.C. U.S. Attorneys Office and D.C. Police with more than 30 other organizational members coordinating on cases and victim services.

Imagine what another $5,000 from winning this vote can do!  Click here to vote against slavery before 5 p.m. on Monday, March 30th!

*Names and details have been changed to protect the identity and anonymity of our clients.

Katherine Chon is the President and Co-founder of Polaris Project in Washington, D.C., a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation.