The Ultimate Betrayal

Woman in the Military Image for Sexual Assault in the Military StoryPresident Barack Obama presented an ultimatum to the U.S. military today, warning that within a year it must take measures to better prevent and respond to sexual assault in its ranks. If not, the president will push for tough reforms.

“So long as our women and men in uniform face the insider threat of sexual assault, we have an urgent obligation to do more to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, as appropriate under the military justice system,” President Obama was quoted as saying, according to a December 20 NPR report.

The President’s statement came hours after the Senate passed a bill that would crack down on the sexual assault crimes in the military, part of the $632.8 billion U.S. Defense spending bill the Senate passed Thursday and sent to the president’s desk. The bill included about 30 provisions related to sexual assault in the military. However, an amendment to remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command was not included in the final bill.

“The chain of command provides violent offenders an opportunity to manipulate the system and avoid accountability for sexual assault,” said Cheryl Thomas, The Advocates’ director of its Women’s Human Rights Program and an expert who works around the world to reform laws, processes, and practices to eradicate violence against women. “Truly, there’s no transparency with this system, and the military essentially colludes with sexual predators. Offenders are empowered by the system, and impunity for their crimes prevails. It’s similar to a batterer’s use of unfettered power and control to intimidate and silence victims that our legal system has struggled with for decades in domestic violence cases.”

Violence against women in the military replicates many of the dynamics of the abuse taking place in the civilian world, according to Thomas. “Advocates have worked for decades to put an end to violence against women,” she said. “The military would do well to learn from these struggles.”

The Advocates for Human Rights recently added a comprehensive section to its website,, about sexual violence in the military. The section can be found here. The website is a stand out, receiving 20,000-30,000 visits each month from people around the world. Also, the just-published issue of The Human Rights Observer, The Advocates’ newsletter, features the article, “Sexual Violence in the Military: Brutal Betrayal.” Read this and other articles by clicking here.

By: Susan L. Banovetz, The Advocates’ director of communication

Minnesota Lawmakers Lead National Efforts to End Sex Trafficking

Michele Garnett McKenzie
Michele Garnett McKenzie

It’s no secret that human trafficking is a widespread crime. All one has to do is look at last month’s FBI Operation Cross-Country, which recovered over 100 teens across the United States. Human trafficking is also one of the oldest crimes against persons, or as Vednita Carter, founder and executive director of Breaking Free, aptly calls it, the “world’s oldest oppression.”

But Minnesota lawmakers are crossing the aisle to put an end to one of the greatest human rights atrocities in our country: the buying and selling of human beings for sex.

The House’s End Human Trafficking Act, H.R. 2805, co-sponsored by Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN-8th), and it’s Senate companion introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), are bi-partisan efforts to recognize under federal law that people who “obtain, patronize, or solicit” prostituted children are guilty of the crime of human trafficking.

Let’s be clear. We’re talking about the buyers of sex. The “johns.” Or, as Minnesota statute defines them, the “patrons.” Rep. Nolan and Sen. Klobuchar propose a step that needs to be taken if we are to stop the buying and selling of our children for sex. Their legislation recognizes that it’s not just the “pimps” who are part of the human trafficking equation, it’s the men who believe they are entitled to sex when and how they want it, so long as they pay for it.

Another Minnesotan, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN-3rd), joined New York Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY-25) to introduce H.R. 2744, the Child Sex Trafficking Data and Response Act of 2013. Paulsen’s bill would, among other things, amend federal law to require that states’ programs relating to child abuse and neglect include provisions and procedures to identify and assess all reports involving child victims of sex trafficking and to train child protective services workers about identifying and providing comprehensive services to exploited children.

Paulsen’s bill addresses head-on one of the barriers to effectively providing services to sexually exploited children: Our child protection systems often fail to see these kids, to recognize them as crime victims, and to extend protection.

And Sen. Al Franken, long a champion of efforts to end human trafficking, this session joined his Minnesota colleague in support of increased reporting and data collection efforts by signing onto S. 413, the Human Trafficking Reporting Act, another bipartisan effort.

Federal efforts in step with state initiatives
Congressional efforts to end human trafficking take their place alongside innovative state approaches, including Minnesota’s ground-breaking Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act. Safe Harbor put in place the beginnings of a response to sex trafficked children by recognizing these kids as crime victims and establishing the framework for statewide services – including safe housing – designed to meet their complex needs.

Safe housing and other services form the backbone of an effective approach to getting victims out of the life of trafficking. Unfortunately, the legal response to human trafficking continues to reflect the long-held ambivalence about prostitution, which continues to rescue victims by arresting, detaining, and prosecuting them rather than by focusing efforts on the traffickers – both the “pimps” and the “patrons.”

The latest efforts by Minnesota’s congressional delegation focus public policy where it counts by defining “patrons” as what they really are, by ensuring that child protection measures include trafficking victims, and by making sure we know what’s really being done in efforts to combat trafficking. We have a long way to go, but Minnesota’s efforts again will help lead the way.

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, director of advocacy for The Advocates for Human Rights

New Year’s Reflections


By Robin Phillips

I love December.  I love it because it brings some of my favorite things – snow and holidays and celebrations with family.  But I also love the quiet time at the end of December that allows for reflection about the past year.  This time of reflection gives me hope for renewal and inspiration in the coming year. I am using this time to reflect on the human rights successes of 2012 and to gear up for the challenges of 2013.

On the national level, we celebrate moving our country one step closer to achieving universal access to health care. With the Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the health care law commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” we can collectively move forward with the plan to expand health care coverage to more people.

And, what a year we’ve had in Minnesota. We are still celebrating the success of the amazing grassroots efforts to defeat two proposed amendments to Minnesota’s constitution. The first was a measure to permanently enshrine discrimination into the Constitution by restricting marriage to heterosexual couples. The second proposed amendment was a cynical attempt to restrict voting disguised as a measure to protect the integrity of the voting process. An amazing group of organizations, companies and individuals came together to defeat these amendments, rejecting discrimination and protecting the fundamental right to vote for all citizens in Minnesota.

We are celebrating other program successes at The Advocates for Human Rights. We published the third edition of our Energy of a Nation curriculum, a comprehensive curriculum designed to educate students about the realities of immigration in the United States and dispel the common myths. This fall, we also published two reports about the implementation of the domestic violence laws in Croatia and Moldova. We trained the legal professionals who implement these laws in several countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and we provided commentary to proposed laws in nearly a dozen other countries. We continue to work with Diaspora communities to bring their human rights concerns to the United Nations and the governments in their home countries. We also work to ensure that Minnesota communities are welcoming to our newest Americans through our One Voice Minnesota Project.

While there is much to celebrate from 2012, we face many challenges going forward. For example, we must hold the United States government accountable for the human rights violations resulting from extra-judicial executions through drone attacks. These attacks violate international law and erode the basic due process protections of the United States Constitution. We must also challenge indefinite detention, with a demand that the most glaring example, Guantanamo, be closed or at a minimum, those held be charged and given the opportunity to present a defense. Prisoners there have now been held for more than ten years without the benefit of even the most basic civil rights protections provided in international law.

It appears that we will have the opportunity to address comprehensive immigration reform in the coming year. We must insist that any fix to the broken immigration system be anchored in human rights and respect the inherent dignity of all individuals living in this country. In addition, we must fight against every attempt to discriminate against human beings in this country based on their immigration status. Attempts to fix due process problems with indefinite detention by limiting the extension of due process protection only to United States citizens or permanent residents violates the spirit if not the letter of the United States Constitution. These same distinctions are being made in the health care, education and access to food and housing. Law and policy related to these fundamental human rights should also acknowledge the shared humanity of all people living in the United States.

We must also continue to work for the elimination of violence against women and girls in the United States and around the world. The recent news of the death of the young medical student who was raped on a bus in India and the shooting of Malala, the young Pakistani girl who spoke out about her right to education, underscore the urgency of this issue. We have made great strides in increasing legal protections and training legal system personnel, but we must work to pass appropriate laws, monitor the implementation of these laws, and fix or improve the laws when they are not working properly.

We are inspired by past successes to meet the human rights challenges in the coming year. At The Advocates for Human Rights, we re-commit to our vision of a world in which all people live with dignity, freedom, justice, equality and peace. In this spirit, we wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Robin Phillips is the Executive Director of The Advocates for Human Rights