Tag Archives: rape

Revelation about ‘Last Tango in Paris’ rape scene sparks outrage

Last Tango in Paris is making headlines again 44 years after the controversial film came out. A recently unearthed video interview with Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci from 2013 has renewed interest, and outrage, over what happened to actress Maria Schneider on set during the infamous butter rape scene.

Bertolucci said neither he nor Marlon Brando told Schneider of their plans to use the stick of butter during the simulated rape scene — a concept they came up with the morning of the shoot — because he wanted her to react “as a girl not as an actress.” He wanted her, he said, to feel “the rage and the humiliation.”

Schneider, who died in 2011 at age 58 after a lengthy illness, spoke a number of times about the scene between her, then aged 19, and Marlon Brando, then 48, even saying in a 2007 Daily Mail interview that she “felt a little raped” by her co-star and director.

“They only told me about it before we had to film the scene, and I was so angry,” Schneider said. “I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can’t force someone to do something that isn’t in the script. But at the time, I didn’t know that.”

Outrage today

But despite Schneider’s past comments, the video interview with Bertolucci struck a chord this weekend as it circulated on social media that the director was admitting the scene was non-consensual.

Actress Jessica Chastain wrote on Twitter that she felt “sick” over the revelation that “the director planned her attack.”

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay called it “inexcusable.”

“As a director, I can barely fathom this. As a woman, I am horrified, disgusted and enraged by it,” DuVernay wrote.

Chris Evans also expressed his rage and said it was “beyond disgusting,” while Anna Kendrick weighed in that she “used to get eye-rolls” when she brought the incident up to people previously and that she was “glad at least it will be taken seriously now.”

Some, like actress Jenna Fischer, took a more extreme stance, writing that “all copies of this film should be destroyed immediately.”

Schneider, a relative unknown when she was cast in the film, said that the “whole circus” of suddenly being famous made her turn to drugs and she even attempted suicide a few times.

She stayed friends with Brando until his death in 2004, but she said that “for a while we couldn’t talk about the movie.”

Bertolucci, however, did not maintain a relationship with Schneider. He said he knew she hated him for life in that interview two years after her death.

And while he doesn’t regret the scene, he said he does feel guilty about it.

Silent victims of violence: 4 million children orphaned in Congo

More than 4 million children have lost at least one parent in Congo over the past two decades, the silent victims of continuous cycles of violence.

And more than 26 million orphans live in West and Central Africa, where Congo is located — the second highest number in the world behind South Asia, according to the United Nations.

These children have grown up amid conflict fueled by ethnic strife and the fight over Congo’s valuable minerals. The violence and displacement are eroding the tradition of families caring for their own.

The breakdown in family means some orphans are forced to look after themselves and their younger siblings. Some are vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups.

And many also face sexual exploitation, in a country where rape has become commonplace on the streets.

“They are the orphans with a story of violence since 1994 — it’s a generation of victims that continues,” says Francisca Ichimpaye, a senior monitor at the En Avant Les Enfants INUKA center.

And the children “lose their story in the violence.”

As Congo falls once again into violence in the face of a delayed election, here are profiles of some orphans in Goma.


Alpha Meleki was found in a pile of bodies after an attack by rebels on his village in Congo’s eastern Beni earlier this year. He had been shot and left for dead with his parents in the bush.

The bullet wounds and the vine-like surgery scar on the 6-year-old’s pudgy belly have only recently healed. He hobbles around, pulling his loose shorts up on his tiny body.

The emotional scars are still fresh. When held by someone new, Alpha sits limply. His large eyes glaze over, and sometimes glare with angry distrust. He saves his smiles for those he trusts, often seeking the hands of adults he knows.

He cannot stand to see others suffer. Whenever another child at the INUKA center needs medical attention, Alpha cries and screams.

In a quiet moment, he touches a short, wide scar on his head. He lets others touch it.

“They hit me with a machete,” he recalls.

The center says it could take years to find any family members, as attacks persist in the northeast.


At 17, Jeannette Umutsi has become the caregiver for her little brother, whom she hopes to protect from the horrors she has seen.

At first she recounts her story stoically and with distance. She was born only a few years after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide spilled into Congo. Armed fighters stormed her home, hit her in the leg with a shovel and nearly killed her sister.

She and her family fled her hometown of Kirolarwe in 2008 to escape the violence. In the next village, she hid in a toilet enclosure with wooden plank floors for three days to save herself from another attack. Alone, she would sneak out to grab tomatoes that grew nearby.

For days, she heard gunshots and saw dead bodies, including that of her uncle. As she continues to talk of violence, she breaks down into tears and gasps.

“I have so many nightmares now. So many nightmares,” she says.

Her mother returned to save her. But she later died after giving birth to her brother Shukuru, now 5.

Her father used to be a fighter, she says. Once, he threatened to kill her with a machete. As she talks about him, she folds over herself, head in her skirt, and the fear is palpable in her eyes.

Finally she fled the family. She wrapped Shukuru up, put him on her back, and walked for days, struggling to breathe, on the way to Camp Mugunga in Goma. She is now an older sister to more than a dozen other children at the INUKA center, where she helps cook the fish and rice for lunch and rounds the kids up for naps.


Moise Munoka, 7, sits still, looks down and speaks in a near whisper when he recounts the loss of his mother.

She died in 2013 after health complications from rapes left her quite sick. Rape is a constant in Congo, where it has become a weapon of war. At the Children’s Voice Virunga Centre in Goma, where Moise and his sister Agata gather during the day, at least 30 children were born of rape.

Though Moise never knew his own father, he knows that he was probably a fighter who raped his mother. When asked if he wants to meet him one day, he scrunches his nose up and shakes his head in disgust, “No!”

He is happy to have left his war torn village of Massissi.

“It’s a bad place because there’s war, trouble, people don’t like each other, they like to kill,” he says. “There’s always dead people, and blood.”

He lights up as he explains that he and his sister are now being cared for by a widow, Arlette Kabuo Malimewa, 45. She has three children of her own and also cares for a third foster child.

Agata sleeps in the living room, which has several posters of Jesus Christ lining the walls. Moise has his own room, where his two book bags hang from nails on the wooden planks.

Malimewa sells bed covers in bright pinks and whites that hang over her black lava rock gate, and makes about $5 a week.

“I love them, but it is difficult,” she says. “I want to keep them until my death … because who would they go to?”


Anuarita Mahoro, 12, has been ostracized because she was born with a right hand problem that leaves her too weak to do hard labor.

She lived with her father until he was asked to chop wood for armed men who then killed him in 2014. Her mother lived with “the men of the forests,” as she refers to the fighters. They eventually killed her mother, too, and left.

Anuarita fled to her grandparents in Kiwanja. When her grandfather died, she was forced to leave her grandmother to find work to eat. Starving and sick, she was eventually taken in by a center for orphans.

Here, her right hand tucked between her legs and leaning on her left elbow, she apologizes.

“I have suffered so much so I might sound confused,” she says.

She hopes to return to her village and reclaim her grandmother’s land, showing those in the community her worth.

“After the death of my parents, the community discussed who would take this child. And no one was prepared to take me on as a parent. So since no one wanted me, when I grow up they better not come and ask me for any help,” she said, grinning widely, and then covering her face and laughing.

She would like one day to set up a center for orphans. And if she ever got the conversation she wants with the men who killed her parents, she solemnly reveals the one thought that won’t leave her mind.

“I would ask why they killed my father and my mother and didn’t kill me?”


Damien Matata Bizi looks down, his shoulders heavy, when he hesitantly recounts his past as an orphan who became a child soldier.

Many of the thousands of other former child soldiers in Congo over years made a similar choice, or had none at all. Rwanda’s 1994 genocide pushed fighters into Congo, and multiple rebel groups now fight over the mineral-rich region.

Matata Bizi became a rebel after his father, also an armed fighter, died. He was only 10 years old.

“I was angry when I learned of my father’s death. So I wanted to avenge my father, so I entered into the rebellion to fight,” he said. “My mother could never pay for school, and we could never find money to pay for food so I thought this was best.”

Matata Bizi says he was treated well, but others weren’t.

“The life that vulnerable children have is hard,” he says. “They don’t have education, they don’t have clothes, so it may be better to be in an armed group with the ability to find food and clothes than to be at a loss.”

When asked about having to kill people, his eyes narrow and he impatiently takes a deep breath, visibly angry.

“There’s a difference between the militants and child soldiers,” he says. “The adults have the occasion to reflect on what they’ve done. But for a child, we can only execute an order we are given. We don’t think of things, we do what we are ordered to do. “

Matata Bizi was found, rehabilitated by the United Nations and integrated into the army in 2009. He signed papers that say he is no longer a child soldier. He carries the dirtied, crumbling pages around in his shirt pocket. They brand him now.

He came to Goma in 2013. He was trained as a mechanic at the Don Bosco center in Goma but has no work. He says it’s easier to make more money and move up in rebel groups than in the army.

“War I know isn’t good, and neither is violence. It’s not good or normal,” he says. “But the armed groups exist because the country is badly organized. There’s no work. There’s no occupation for the young.”

On the Web

Children’s Voice


Wisconsin student accused of assaulting 4 more women

A University of Wisconsin-Madison student already accused of sexually assaulting a woman in his apartment this month has been charged with sexually assaulting four other women since early 2015.

Alec Cook, 20, of Edina, Minnesota, faces seven counts of second-degree sexual assault, three counts of third-degree sexual assault, two counts of strangulation, two counts of false imprisonment and one count of fourth-degree sexual assault.

The complaint prosecutors filed Thursday accuses Cook of assaults dating back to March 2015. Prosecutors said one of the women was assaulted multiple times during a ballroom dancing class she was attending with Cook this past spring. Cook also is accused of assaulting a woman he met at a party in March 2015; a woman he met in a human sexuality class in February; and a woman he met during a psychology class experiment in August.

Cook was charged last week with assaulting a woman in his apartment the night of Oct. 12 after the two studied together.

Media apeports of those charges have driven dozens of women to report to police their encounters with Cook.

Officers searching Cook’s apartment found a black book listing women he’d met and documenting his “sexual desires” and including the word “kill” without explanation, authorities said.

Dane County Circuit Court Commissioner Brian Asmus set Cook’s bail at $200,000 cash during a brief hearing. Cook made no statement at the hearing.

His attorneys, Jessa Nicholson and Chris Van Wagner, told reporters after the proceeding that they believe the ballroom assaults never happened. The rest of the encounters, they claimed, were consensual.

Van Wagner showed reporters a page from Cook’s book with the word “Killed?” written at the top and said it’s unclear what it means.

He said Cook has been vilified on social media but the prosecution’s case is “just dust.” Women are coming forward because they’ve seen social media postings about Cook and have become frightened, he said.

“He’s been painted as the face of evil,” Van Wagner said. “That’s wrong.”

According to the complaint, the accuser from the Oct. 12 incident says she went to his apartment after studying with him at a campus library. She said he assaulted her for 2 1/2 hours, maintaining what she described as a “death grip” on her arm or body.

Another woman came forward two days after charges were filed in that case. She said she met Cook at her friend’s birthday party in March 2015. Two weeks later she visited his apartment, where he began kissing her forcefully, then sexually assaulted her.

The same day that Cook was charged with the Oct. 12 assault, two other women reported being assaulted by him.

One woman told police she was in a ballroom dance class with Cook during the spring 2016 semester. She accused him of repeatedly touching her while they were dancing despite her telling him to stop. The touching occurred 15 to 20 times over the semester, she said.

The class instructor told investigators she got an email from the woman saying she was uncomfortable with how Cook touched her. The instructor responded by speaking to the class about appropriate contact during dances. Another woman told police that she met Cook during a human sexuality class and began dating him in January, the complaint said. She said he assaulted her at his apartment in February.

Another woman told police that she met Cook during a psychology class experiment. They had consensual sex at his apartment in August, the woman said, during which he tried to choke her. After taking a break to smoke marijuana, Cook tried to have sex with her again, this time slapping her and leaving bruises.

Rape case overshadows ‘Birth of a Nation’ movie release

A 17-year-old rape accusation and recent reports that the woman accuser committed suicide have cast a shadow over The Birth of a Nation, one of the year’s most anticipated films and the rising star behind it, just as their awards campaign is ramping up.

Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, a drama about Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion, has been pegged as an Academy Awards candidate since its award-winning debut at the Sundance Film Festival, where it fetched a record $17.5 million acquisition price from Fox Searchlight.

The Birth of a Nation, which Parker stars in, co-wrote, co-produced and directed, is a film some believe will help sweep in a more diverse field of Oscar nominees, along with providing a breakthrough for Parker.

But after a handful of recent trade interviews in which Parker discussed the rape charges he faced and was then acquitted of as a student at Penn State University in 1999, Parker’s past is what’s drawing headlines well before the October release of The Birth of a Nation. Attention has only intensified with the recent news from Hollywood trade publications The Hollywood Reporter and Variety that the accuser, who was not named, killed herself in 2012 at the age of 30 after a few prior attempts.

A death certificate obtained by Variety said she suffered from “major depressive disorder with psychotic features, PTSD due to physical and sexual abuse.”

Representatives for Parker and the studio did not immediately respond to request for comment about the latest reports.

As a 19-year-old wrestler at Penn State, Parker and his roommate Jean Celestin (who has a story credit on The Birth of a Nation) were charged with raping the 18-year-old student. The woman said she was unconscious at the time and didn’t consent to the sex. Parker, who testified that he and the woman had previously had sex, and Celestin maintained that it was consensual.

Parker and Celestin invited another friend to join them in having sex with the woman that night, but the third man testified that he declined, saying that it didn’t feel right. Deadline reported that, according to court documents, Parker told the victim, “I felt like you put yourself in that situation, you know what I mean? … I really felt like I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Also according to court documents, the woman tried twice to commit suicide in 1999.

Parker was acquitted in 2001. Celestin was convicted of sexual assault, but that was later overturned when the woman opted not to testify again for a 2005 retrial.

Saying that Parker and Celestin intimidated and harassed her on campus following the incident, she sued Penn State for its failure to protect her. She was awarded a reported $17,500 settlement out of court

Her suffering apparently continued, however.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke to S. Daniel Carter, a Penn State sexual assault advocate, who said the accuser was “tormented” by “the constant contact and fear of seeing her assailants on campus.”

The accuser’s brother, identified only as Johnny, also spoke about his sister too.

“If I were to look back at her very short life and point to one moment where I think she changed as a person, it was obviously that point,” Johnny told Variety. “The trial was pretty tough for her.”

After the trial, Johnny said, his sister moved around frequently and became a mother to a son with her boyfriend.

“I think the ghosts continued to haunt her,” he said.

The case largely escaped notice at Sundance in January. But in a pair of trade interviews published Friday, Parker confronted it straightforwardly.

“I was sure it would come up,” Parker told Deadline. “I stand here, a 36-year-old man, 17 years removed from one of the painful moments in my life. And I can imagine it was painful for everyone. I was cleared of everything, of all charges. I’ve done a lot of living, and raised a lot of children. I’ve got five daughters and a lovely wife.”

In the bright spotlight of Hollywood’s awards season, far less has hurt a film’s chances with Oscar voters. On the other hand, Parker wasn’t found guilty and he has faced the case more directly than some Hollywood stars have in the past. Representatives for Parker and the studio did not immediately respond to requests for comment after news broke of his accuser’s suicide.

A lot is on the line for Fox Searchlight, which paid more for The Birth of a Nation than any previous Sundance film. The movie’s striking poster features Parker as Turner with a noose made out of an American flag. The film will play in September at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In an earlier statement, Fox Searchlight said: “Fox Searchlight is aware of the incident that occurred while Nate Parker was at Penn State. We also know that he was found innocent and cleared of all charges. We stand behind Nate and are proud to help bring this important and powerful story to the screen.”

Parker also received backlash after Ebony magazine reported that he said that he’d never play a gay character, “in an effort to preserve the black man.”

Louis Weisberg contributed to this story.


Conduct code may have silenced rape victims at Baptist school

The sexual assault scandal that took down Baylor University’s president and football coach also found a problem with a bedrock of the school’s faith-based education: a student conduct code banning alcohol, drugs and premarital sex that may have driven some victims into silence.

Investigators with the Pepper Hamilton law firm who dug into Baylor’s response to sexual assault claims determined the school’s rigid approach to drugs, alcohol and sex and “perceived judgmental responses” to victims who reported being raped “created barriers” to reporting assaults.

Some women faced the prospect of their family being notified.

“A number of victims were told that if they made a report of rape, their parents would be informed of the details of where they were and what they were doing,” said Chad Dunn, a Houston attorney who represents six women who have sued Baylor under the anonymous identification of Jane Doe.

The nation’s largest Baptist university is a notably conservative place in one of the most conservative states in the country. Dancing on campus was banned until 1996. Fornication, adultery and homosexual acts were included in an official list of misconduct until May 2015, and the current policy stresses that “physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity.”

Students can still be expelled for using drugs or alcohol, though late last year it included amnesty for minor offenses.

Pepper Hamilton investigators urged the school to expand amnesty to sexual conduct code violations; the federal government told all U.S. universities in 2011 that conduct policies may have a chilling effect on reporting sexual assault.

“Amnesty is a no-brainer,” said Shan Wu, a former federal sex crimes prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney specializing in student legal issues. “Unfortunately, these codes force students to engage in life-or-death calculations,” added Wu, who isn’t involved in the Baylor case.

Baylor officials say they are already making changes. Interim President David Garland, who took over in late May for ousted president and chancellor Ken Starr, said the university considered all of the firm’s recommendations as “mandates.”

“Expectations for our students are outlined in university conduct policies and are a reflection of our faith-based mission,” school spokeswoman Tonya Lewis said, noting that the amnesty provisions for drug and alcohol use should assure sexual assault victims that Baylor will focus on their allegations. Baylor has repeatedly declined to comment specific cases.

“Student safety and support for survivors of all types of interpersonal violence are paramount to the mission of Baylor University,” Lewis said.

But such offers of amnesty are too late for women who previously reported assaults and told Pepper Hamilton investigators about hurdles they faced in dealing with Baylor officials. Eight former Baylor students have brought three federal lawsuits against the school, outlining rape allegations as far back as 2005 that they say were either ignored or discouraged from reporting.

Dunn would not allow his clients to be interviewed by the AP to protect their identity, but relayed questions to them.

Two women said they were pushed to accept alcohol conduct violations when they reported their assaults, or feared sexual conduct violations if they did.

One woman said her case began when she called police to report a physical assault on another woman at an off-campus party. Police demanded to know if she was underage and had been drinking, then arrested and reported her to the school office that investigates conduct code violations, she said. She told Baylor officials her drinking was a result of being raped a month earlier and detailed what happened in person and in a letter.

She received an alcohol code violation and told to do 25 hours community service, and when she tried to appeal, the woman said Baylor officials urged her to drop it. The school never pursued her rape claim.

“I was told by many Baylor staff that they couldn’t do anything for me because my assault was off campus, yet they had no problem punishing me for my off-campus drinking,” the woman said. Schools are bound by federal law to investigate on- and off-campus sex assault allegations.

The threat of a sexual conduct violation was a “common issue” that Baylor did nothing to dispel, another woman said.

Even when the code of conduct wasn’t an overt issue, some women who reported sexual assault said they were grilled about their behavior.

Stefanie Mundhenk, a former Baylor student who The Associated Press is identifying because she has publicly blogged about Baylor’s investigation into her 2015 rape allegations, told the AP that she was never threatened by conduct code violations but was repeatedly questioned about her sexual history.

“I was alarmed,” said Mundhenk, who is not among those suing Baylor. “It was biased and it was unfair. They were trying to gauge if I was a loose woman. They were looking to attack my reputation.”

On the web

For information about reporting sexual assaults and addressing the crisis on college campuses:


It’s On Us

5th annual ‘Wrap Around the Capitol’ on April 9

The Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault will stage the fifth annual “Wrap Around the Capitol” at 2 p.m. on April 9.

The event marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Denim Day,  recognizing the more than 1.4 million survivors of some form of sexual violence in Wisconsin and calling for action against such violence.

Participants will gather inside the Capitol Building’s Rotunda in Madison.

An announcement from the organizers said: “Held as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Wrap Around the Capitol involves a rally, this year inside the Capitol. Survivors of sexual violence, allies, advocates, and other community members are invited to gather in a symbolic act to end sexual violence. This event joins an international effort to end sexual violence in solidarity with survivors and their allies.”

Denim Day, observed in the United States on April 29, originated in Italy.

In the 1990s, an 18 year-old woman was raped by a 45 year-old driving instructor in Italy. The perpetrator was arrested, prosecuted, convicted of rape and sentenced to jail. However, the court overturned the rape conviction because the judges said the victim must have consented to sexual contact since her jeans were so tight the perpetrator could not have gotten them off without her assistance.

Outraged, the Italian Parliament protested by wearing jeans to work. This gave rise to Denim Day.

Get connected

For more information on Denim Day, see our Denim Day page.

See what is going on across Wisconsin for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (www.wcasa.org) is a membership agency of organizations and individuals working to end sexual violence in Wisconsin. Among these are the 51 sexual assault service provider agencies throughout the state that offer support, advocacy and information to survivors of sexual assault and their families. WCASA works to ensure that every survivor in Wisconsin gets the support and care they need. WCASA also works to create the social change necessary to ensure a future where no child, woman or man is ever sexually violated again.

Assembly Democrats call on Rebecca Bradley to resign

Assembly Democrats are stepping up their attacks on Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley over her inflammatory writings about LGBT people and feminists.

The writings were uncovered by the liberal group One Wisconsin Now just weeks before she faces challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg at the polls on April 5 to retain her interim position on the state’s highest court. She was appointed to the position by Gov. Scott Walker, who’s named her to all the judicial positions she’s ever held, beginning in 2012.

Last week, state Reps. Lisa Subeck and Chris Taylor called upon Bradley to resign over her writings blaming victims of sexual assault and equating the use of birth control with murder.

“Rebecca Bradley’s extreme and hate-filled beliefs make her unfit to serve on our state’s highest court, Rep. Subeck said in a statement. “From calling members of the LGBTQ community ‘degenerates’ and ‘queers’ to believing that women play a role in date rape, this is a person who has extreme biases, unacceptable in a justice who is supposed to embrace fairness and neutrality.’

For 11 days, Taylor tweeted Bradley asking for an apology to rape and incest victims. Bradley has yet to respond, according to Taylor’s office.

“Justice Bradley believes that pharmacists should be able to impose their personal beliefs on women by refusing to fill birth control prescriptions,” Taylor said in the same statement. “It is frightening to consider Justice Bradley inserting her extreme beliefs into what should be an independent and fair state Supreme Court. …  “Justice Rebecca Bradley’s beliefs are dangerous to the health and lives of Wisconsin women.”

Also last week, Rep. Mark Spreitzer announced his support for an effort by Fair Wisconsin and LGBT leaders, including U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, to expose the funders of the right-wing PAC Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, which is running commercials for Bradley. The group’s website was registered by Lorri Pickens, who led the campaign against marriage equality in 2006.

WFA has “poured $2 million into ads for Rebecca Bradley’s campaign to fill the Wisconsin Supreme Court vacancy and plans to spend at least $3 million before the April 5 election,” according to a statement from Spreitzer’s office.

“As an LGBT leader and strong supporter of equality, I have been deeply disturbed by the vitriolic anti-gay statements that Rebecca Bradley has made,” Spreitzer said in a statement from his office. “It is even more disturbing to learn that she is benefiting from millions of dollars in campaign spending from a group with ties to leading anti-equality activists and the anti-LGBT group Wisconsin Family Action. During Sunshine Week in Wisconsin, I wholeheartedly support Fair Wisconsin’s efforts to expose the funders of this group, as transparency is the only way to root out the dark money that supports anti-equality rhetoric.”

“I’d like to think many of the people funding Rebecca Bradley’s campaign don’t support her homophobic statements, but if they are contributing to the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, I think their money will speak for itself,” Spreitzer added. “Our now-gutted campaign finance laws allow these secret groups to dump millions into our elections without disclosing who they really are. ….  Any individual, business or organization that donates to this group should be exposed so the public knows where they stand and what kind of rhetoric they are funding.”

ACLU sues over federal funds to Catholic bishops

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued for records related to the federal government’s award of funds to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has routinely denied survivors of human trafficking access to critical health care because of its religious beliefs.

The suit, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, seeks documents related to a $2 million federal grant awarded to the USCCB.

The ACLU said the group received taxpayer money despite a court ruling that the government had violated the Constitution by giving USCCB a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract to provide services to human trafficking survivors despite restricting their access to reproductive health services.

“We are shocked and deeply concerned to see history repeating itself with millions of taxpayer dollars funneled into the hands of a religious group that has a long history of refusing critical health care services to the most vulnerable people in their care,” ACLU senior staff attorney Brigitte Amiri stated. “The court has ruled that the federal government cannot give federal funds to those who impose their religious beliefs on others by withholding critical healthcare to those who have been through unspeakable horrors. The public has a right to know what’s going on.”

Case against the Catholic Bishops

In 2009, the ACLU filed a lawsuit alleging the federal government violated the Constitution by permitting USCCB to impose its religiously-based restrictions on the types of services trafficked individuals can receive with taxpayer funds.

In 2012, a federal court ruled in favor of the ACLU.

During the course of the case, the federal government ended its relationship with USCCB. So, in 2013, an appeals court held that the case was moot.

Then the government awarded the Catholic bishops $2 million in September 2015.

More than 14,000 individuals are trafficked into the United States each year. Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals are made to labor against their will through force, fraud, or coercion.

The ACLU said many women who are trafficked are raped by traffickers or their acquaintances. Some women who have been trafficked become pregnant after being raped. Denying reproductive health services and referrals for these services, further victimizes trafficked individuals.

The ACLU said obstructing access to reproductive health care for trafficking survivors is not the only situation in which the federal government allows USCCB to harm vulnerable populations.

USCCB also receives millions of taxpayer dollars to care for refugee and undocumented immigrant minors and has restricted their access to reproductive health services, including contraception and abortion, despite the high rates of sexual assault that these teens suffer.

In addition, USCCB prohibits Catholic hospitals from offering — or even discussing — certain reproductive health care services, even when those services are necessary to protect a woman’ s health or life. These hospitals also receive federal funding and are subject to government oversight.  Nearly one in nine hospital beds in the country is in a Catholic facility.


More sex abuse by UN troops reported in C. African Republic

A human rights group said this week that at least eight women and girls were raped or sexually exploited by U.N. peacekeepers late last year in Central African Republic, and the world body announced that, following a new policy, more than 100 troops would be sent home.

Human Rights Watch said a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old said peacekeepers gang-raped them near the airport in Bambari, the country’s second-largest city.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic said later on Feb. 4 tht it had identified seven new possible victims in Bambari in cases that Human Rights Watch brought to its attention.

The U.N. said the soldiers implicated in the cases are from the Republic of Congo and Congo.

The mission said 120 soldiers from the Republic of Congo who were deployed to Bambari from Sept. 17 to Dec. 14 will be repatriated after an investigation is carried out. In the meantime, it said, they will be confined to barracks.

A fact-finding expert sent to Bambari found “sufficient initial evidence” that five minors had been sexually abused, and that one adult had been sexually exploited, the mission said. The expert was unable to interview a seventh person. One claim by Human Rights Watch had been previously reported and is currently under investigation, the mission said.

Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the U.N. envoy for Central African Republic who traveled to Bambari on Feb. 4, expressed outrage and shame at the latest reports.

The U.N. has been unable to explain why so many rapes and other sexual abuse by peacekeepers have been reported in Central African Republic, which has been gripped by deadly violence between Christians and Muslims since late 2013. Thousands of U.N. and other peacekeepers have been in the country since then.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Anthony Banbury came close to tears as he described four new child sex abuse cases in the country involving U.N. troops and police from Bangladesh, Congo, Niger and Senegal. It was the first time the world body had publicly named countries whose U.N. personnel are accused, as part of a new policy.

For all of 2015, Banbury said, there are likely to be 22 confirmed reports of sexual abuse or exploitation in the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission in CAR, though that may rise as a result of this week’s statements.

Human Rights Watch said it documented the latest eight cases of sexual exploitation and abuse during research in Bambari from Jan. 16-30. The organization said the temporary deployment of Republic of Congo peacekeepers to protect the city’s airport corresponds with most of the cases.

The group quoted a 14-year-old saying that in November, two armed peacekeepers attacked her as she walked by the base at the airport.

“Suddenly one of them grabbed me by my arms and the other one ripped off my clothes,” she was quoted as saying. “They pulled me into the tall grass and one held my arms while the other one pinned down my legs and raped me. The soldier holding my arms tried to hold my mouth, but I was still able to scream. Because of that they had to run away before the second soldier could rape me.”

An 18-year-old was quoted as saying that when she visited the Republic of Congo troops’ base near the airport seeking food or money, armed peacekeepers forced her into the bush and gang-raped her.

“There were three of them on me. They were armed. They said if I resisted they would kill me. They took me one by one,” she was quoted as saying. 

Prosecutor in Steven Avery case to write a book

The man who prosecuted one of the cases featured in the Netflix show “Making a Murderer'” says he’s writing a book.

Ken Kratz tells WBAY-TV that he’s writing about the case because the voice of slaying victim Teresa Halbach has been forgotten. Kratz said he’s grateful to tell the “whole story.”

Steven Avery served 18 years in prison following a wrongful conviction of rape and two years after his release was charged in Halbach’s death. He was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide. 

The “Making a Murderer” series questions whether Avery was treated fairly and suggests the possibility that Manitowoc County sheriff’s deputies planted evidence. 

Authorities have denied that.

Kratz has defended the prosecution and says evidence was left out of the series. 

The filmmakers have stood by their work.