Cheers and Jeers



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The U.S. Department of Justice has revised its methodology for tracking violent crimes, resulting in data that more accurately reflects the rates of gender-based crimes against American women.

New data released Dec. 18 as part of the Bureau of Justice Statistics annual Crime Victimization Survey indicate much higher rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in 2007 compared to data from 2006, due to the change of methodology, including more personal interviews, increasing interviews in rural areas and new sampling methods. According to the new data, there was a 42 percent increase in domestic violence and a 25 percent increase in rape and sexual assault. A drop in the numbers of men killed by their intimate partners was also reported.

Anti-violence advocates have long complained that the federal crime data–drawn from police reports as well as telephone surveys–under-report the rates of violent crimes against women.

"The new numbers indicate that previously, the government significantly underestimated the number of individuals affected by domestic and sexual violence in this country," said Sarah Tofte, a researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a press release.

The new data reveals an urgent need to address gender-based violence, which remains a pervasive problem in U.S. society, Tofte noted. Human Rights Watch has called on the incoming Obama administration to appoint a special advisor on domestic violence; increase funding for treatment, prevention and intervention programs; conduct authoritative studies; and take other measures to address violent crime rates.

More News to Cheer This Week:


  • Sixty-six nations condemned gender identity and orientation-based violations by signing a pioneering U.N. General Statement on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity on Dec. 18. The countries–which did not include the United States–affirmed a non-binding "principle of non-discrimination, which requires that human rights apply equally to every human being regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."


  • Spain, whose prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has described himself as a feminist, has donated $67 million to the United Nations Gender Equality Fund. The fund supports governments and nonprofit organizations that work on women’s economic development and increasing their political involvement around the world.


  • Despite the recession, the Women’s Business Council Southwest, reported that women-owned small businesses increased revenues in 2008, the Texas-based trade group announced Dec. 18. Nearly half of the group’s 730 member businesses in four states said their year-end revenues would be 50 percent higher, and one-third said they planned to add a new employee next year.


  • The RU-486 abortion pill will be available in Italy beginning next month, the Times of London reported Dec. 16. The pill’s use was authorized by the government led by Romano Prodi in February and, despite opposition from the current government of Silvio Berlusconi, which took power in May, it cannot be blocked.


thumb pointing down The Bush administration gave final approval Dec. 19 to the federal "conscience rule" on Thursday despite widespread opposition from women’s rights groups and medical provider organizations. The rule allows any health care worker the right to refuse to provide medical care or services if the worker feels it violates his or her personal morality.

The policy, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, is intended to allow health care providers–including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, hospitals or any institution that receives federal funding–to refuse to provide abortion-related care. But opponents say it is so expansive it will allow providers to refuse to prescribe birth control or any other service they object to, such as in-vitro fertilization for lesbian couples.

"In just a matter of months, the Bush administration has undone three decades of federal protections for both medical professionals and their patients, replaced them with a policy that seriously risks the health of millions of women, then tried to pass it off as benevolent," said Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights in a press statement.

In August, President-elect Barack Obama criticized the rule and said he was "committed to ensuring that the health and reproductive rights of women are protected," the Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 19. The incoming Obama administration is considering how and when to undo the rule, the Walt Street Journal reported Dec. 17, but it is unclear whether the rule can be undone without going through the federal rule-making and public comment process or whether Obama can issue an executive order. A bill overturning the rule has also been introduced in Congress.

More News to Jeer This Week:


  • Nahla Hussein al-Shaly, 37, a mother of two and leader of the women’s league of the Kurdish Communist Party, was shot and beheaded at her Kirkuk home in northern Iraq, the Associated Press reported Dec. 18. Al-Shaly was killed because she promoted women’s rights, according to party spokesperson Azad Gahareeb.


  • The number of incarcerated women in New Hampshire increased 24 percent between 2003 and 2007, the Boston Globe reported Dec. 15. Two-thirds of women in the state’s prisons have children. The increase in female incarceration rates is largely due to drug and alcohol abuse exacerbated by poverty, unemployment and domestic violence, according to a study from the New Hampshire Women’s Policy Institute. The number of imprisoned men increased 14 percent during the same time period.


  • Post-menopausal women who had hormone-replacement therapy have twice the risk to develop breast cancer as women who do not, according to a Dec. 14 Women’s Health Initiative new study that included 16,000 women.


  • Ok So-ri, one of South Korea’s best-known actresses, received a six-month suspended sentence after she was convicted of adultery, the BBC reported Dec. 17. Ok lost a court case arguing that adultery as a crime was unconstitutional and was prosecuted only as a way for spouses to take revenge on one another. Although few convicted are actually jailed, more than 1,000 people are charged each year and face sentences up to two years in prison.


Lebanon has urged the Philippines to lift a travel ban imposed during the 2006 war with Israel to help reduce its shortage in maids, the BBC reported Dec. 15. The deaths of 95 domestic workers have been reported in Lebanon since January 2007. Foreign workers in Lebanon face a higher risk of abuse, according to Human Rights Watch.

Iulia Anghelescu is a freelance journalist in New York

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