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|August 6- August 12, 2009
• See Letters page
• Jim Hightower
• See Perspectives story 1
• See Perspectives story 2
Sentenced to rape
by Lovisa Stannow
Prison officials need to do more to protect inmates from sexual assault. And there is one group of inmates whose vulnerability has gone all but unnoticed — and that’s people who are transgender.
The majority of U.S. corrections systems house inmates based on their birth gender, disregarding other factors, such as physical appearance that may be entirely feminine (including breasts) or government identity documents that categorize these individuals as female.
Not surprisingly, while in men’s detention facilities, most transgender women are sexually assaulted.
A recent academic study of the experiences of hundreds of transgender women in California’s men’s prisons — a survey that was commissioned by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation — revealed that 59 percent of male-to-female transgender prisoners had been sexually assaulted while incarcerated. A shocking 0 percent of these inmates considered prison officials to be allies in protecting their physical safety.
These statistics, alas, tell only one part of the story. Transgender women who have been raped behind bars speak about the additional abuse they suffer once they file a sexual assault report or request medical and mental-health treatment. Rather than receiving assistance, many are met by cynical corrections officials who blame the survivors for the abuse, faulting them for being provocative or “asking for it.” In the worst cases, transgender women who report a rape are themselves punished — for having engaged in prohibited sexual activity.
Fortunately, as a result of litigation, new policies, and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, several corrections systems have begun efforts to protect the safety of transgender prisoners. Some are heavy-handed and of little help, like placing all transgender women in protective custody — a punitive, isolating measure that deprives them of access to services, programs, and the chance to leave their cells. Others are taking a more nuanced approach. The Washington Corrections Department created a new policy earlier this year that takes into account the gender identity of inmates, as well as their own perception of vulnerability.
At the national level, the plight of transgender women and other vulnerable inmates was addressed on June 23, when the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission released the first-ever binding national standards aimed at preventing and addressing sexual abuse in U.S. prisons, jails and other detention facilities.
Mandated by PREA, and created with input from corrections officials, prisoner rape survivors, advocates and other experts, these standards will require prison staff who make housing decisions to consider whether an inmate belongs to a known vulnerable population (such as being transgender). The standards will also spell out requirements for staff training, inmate education, and sexual assault investigations. In addition, they will require facilities to provide prisoner rape survivors with access to medical and mental health services, even if they are too afraid to testify against their attackers.
When the government takes away someone’s liberty, it takes on an absolute responsibility to protect that person’s safety. Prisoner rape is a perversion of justice and an affront to our society’s most essential values.
The new national standards finally have the potential to end this type of violence.
Lovisa Stannow is the executive director of Just Detention International and a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. This article was prepared for The Progressive Media Project and is available to MCT subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.
(c) 2009, Lovisa Stannow
• See Perspectives story 2
This is not a production issue, but an ethical one
by Mary C. Mulry, Ph.D.
After reading last week’s Paul Danish column, I felt compelled to respond regarding his equating Boulder County “biotech” as a more important “brand” to Boulder than the organic brand in the GMO debate. He also stated that Steve Demos did not oppose GMOs on scientific grounds, but more on that later.
Last I heard, we were talking about GMO sugar beets, a product of agriculture, not drugs, vaccines and medical diagnostics, all important to the companies mentioned as large employers in Boulder and Broomfield counties. Boulder does indeed have a thriving medical biotechnology research and business community. Of course medical biotechnology is a growing business, but let’s leave that discussion for the ongoing health care debate — it is a completely different business sector.
Back to agriculture. There is only one company that I found that was legitimately related to agriculture biotechnology in Boulder County. Syngenta, a seed company, has a sales office in Longmont with a grand total of 27 employees. There used to be others, but like most small companies in agricultural biotechnology, they were purchased by large global companies, Monsanto and Dow Agrochemical. So, organic wins with about 50 times the number of jobs, if you are only counting the three largest employers. This does not include all the thriving entrepreneurial companies in Boulder, many of whom participate in Naturally Boulder, an organization that grew out of an economic development initiative in Boulder. Their conference (coming in September) has been quite successful and draws attendees nationwide, not just from Boulder. Naturally Boulder has published an economic impact report that shows natural and organic companies have a multi-billion dollar impact on the local economy. So the natural and organic industry does have a substantial impact on the local economy and it almost universally rejects GMO technology.
As for the science, Steve Demos did testify at the second public hearing on science. His citation from an August 2009 Scientific American article was chilling. Since Boulder is a university town, these words from the article should give pause:
Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers.
To purchase genetically modified seeds, a customer must sign an agreement that limits what can be done with them. (If you have installed software recently, you will recognize the concept of the end-user agreement.) Agreements are considered necessary to protect a company’s intellectual property, and they justifiably preclude the replication of the genetic enhancements that make the seeds unique. But agritech companies such as Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta go further. For a decade their user agreements have explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research. Under the threat of litigation, scientists cannot test a seed to explore the different conditions under which it thrives or fails. They cannot compare seeds from one company against those from another company. And perhaps most important, they cannot examine whether the genetically modified crops lead to unintended environmental side effects.
Research on genetically modified seeds is still published, of course. But only studies that the seed companies have approved ever see the light of a peer-reviewed journal. In a number of cases, experiments that had the implicit go-ahead from the seed company were later blocked from publication because the results were not flattering. “It is important to understand that it is not always simply a matter of blanket denial of all research requests, which is bad enough,” wrote Elson J. Shields, an entomologist at Cornell University, in a letter to an official at the Environmental Protection Agency (the body tasked with regulating the environmental consequences of genetically modified crops), “but selective denials and permissions based on industry perceptions of how ‘friendly’ or ‘hostile’ a particular scientist may be toward [seed-enhancement] technology.
Therefore, when we hear presentations and testimony on the “science” of GMOs, it is tainted by the fact that the industry controls much of the research.
The real issue here is that the food industry wants cheap food ingredients to maximize its profits. The ag-biotech companies have figured out that if they own the seed, own the herbicide, own the patents and control the science, they can produce a very profitable business. Do we really want the top three seed companies to own 47 percent of the proprietary seeds?
Who continues to get squeezed? The farmers. Their profit margin is very slim, so they latch on to any technology that increases convenience for them and saves fuel and labor. But ultimately the farmer becomes an indentured servant to these companies. Their agreements are elaborate and because they control the supply chain, the companies can arbitrarily raise prices on the GMO seeds and herbicide, so the farmer needs to again scramble to catch up. Threats of no available alternative seeds have been made to these farmers already.
I am not sure what the answer is for these six farmers in the short term, but as a scientist and taxpayer, I do not want to support the application of GMO technology to agriculture on Boulder County Open Space, and I am clearly not alone. There are other alternative crops to grow on this land, and yes, it may be difficult to transition to new crops, but we need to develop a framework to support local food production, processing and sales to keep as much of our food dollars in the county as possible. Grant Family Farms in Weld County has 11 drop-off spots for their Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) in the county, so there is clearly a demand for organic produce as one option.
Aurora Organic Dairy has offered to buy crops for their cattle, if grown organically on open space land, and Steve Demos has offered to make up any income shortfalls for the county in the transition. These pledges seem to have fallen on deaf ears or been shot down by the farmers.
There are solutions to this dilemma, but we have to get past the disinformation controlled by agribusiness and apply our community resources to solving this issue. As retired CSU professor Robert Zimdahl so aptly put it in his presentation to the Food and Agricultural Policy Council, this is not a production issue, but an ethical issue. Let’s all work to make the right ethical decision for the future of our farmers and our open space.
• See Perspectives story 1
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