Tag Archives: sex

Working against human trafficking, from Moldova to Milwaukee

According to a report published by the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission in 2013 entitled “Estimating the Number of Sex Trafficked Youth Using Contacts with Milwaukee Police Department,” more than 77 youth below the age of 17 were trafficked in our city. This information is now more than 3 years old and does not account for adults.

There are many great organizations working to fight human trafficking in Milwaukee and abroad.

Please learn about, volunteer with and work alongside these groups.

Here are a few: Racine Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Police Department, the Commission on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence and the U.S. Attorney’s Eastern District Task Force on Human Trafficking, along with many nonprofits.

For a comprehensive list of organizations, please see the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee’s May 2013 report entitled, “Survey Results: Services for People Who’ve Been Trafficked.”

Another organization is Diaconia Connections, an international aid and development organization affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA, the Czech Brethren and the United Church of Christ. Diaconia Connections maintains an office in the Plymouth United Church of Christ on Milwaukee’s East Side.

The following is a personal reflection from their director, Jeremy Ault, about his trip to Moldova, documenting the anti-trafficking work being done there.

After nearly two hours of traveling, my Moldovan colleagues Adrian and Livia stopped the car in the middle of a gravel road at the top of a long, winding hill. They made their way to a rusted gate that demarcated the property line of a family that lived in a dilapidated house. Turquoise paint peeled away from warped, sun-bleached wooden planks, while the breeze sucked curtains out of broken windowpanes. The yard was bare and rusted hulks of farm equipment could be seen through the crushed walls of a collapsed barn. There was no electricity, no running water and the outhouse door was left ajar.

It was at times like these between Adrian, Livia and me where our language barrier was most noticeable. I had no idea of their plans, so I just followed.

Upon reaching the threshold of the gate, I caught a glimpse of an elderly women making her way to the door. She walked with a severe bend in her spine — most likely the consequence of years of farm labor and osteoporosis.

With her came three children. Their ages varied, from 10-16. There were two boys and a young girl. They didn’t speak to us. After some hushed conversation, Adrian turned to me and waved me inside.

I hesitated.

I made it to the steps leading to the entrance, glanced at the children, and then turned back around. I walked across the yard, back through the gate, and stood by the car. I didn’t leave that spot for an hour.

***

In the summer of 2015, I traveled with three representatives from the Presbyterian Foundation to the European nation of Moldova to document the work of Diaconia Connections (the nonprofit I work for), and our Moldovan partners CASMED and ProCoRe. Our goal was to produce a video about the work being done to fight human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a reprehensible crime. And Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, is ground zero.

Cornered between Romania, Ukraine and the Black Sea, the country has experienced years of economic dysfunction, political corruption and civil war. For working-age adults and young people, opportunity is often found by seeking employment in Russia or the European Union.

Moldova is rated as a Tier 2 Watch List by the U.S. State Department. It is a primary source of men, women, and children trafficked for sex and forced labor. Victims are sent to Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Russia and the European Union. Nearly 80 percent of those trafficked work in the sex industry.

The problem is most egregious in Moldova’s rural communities, where educational and economic opportunities are lacking. Individuals in the countryside are desperate for opportunities. And desperate people without the proper means to acquire work visas, are prime targets for human traffickers. In Moldova, there are plenty of potential victims.

***

We met up with our Moldovan colleagues, Livia and Adrian, early on in our trip and they stayed with us for a few days, driving us around Moldova, where we visited villages and farm communities. But instead of listening to stories of capture, abuse, escape and healing from individual survivors, we instead visited the damp, musty homes of elderly women suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.

We came upon the cottage of a 75-year-old man uncontrollably shaking from a neurological disease that rendered him unable to speak or feed himself. The nurse from CASMED that cared for him walked over 7 miles a day to wash his soiled bed linens and slice his bread.

We had lunch with a single mother and her son who was physically disabled and unable to leave the house. We listened intently as she pleaded with local government officials to assist her in rebuilding the foundation of her home. In the middle of the conversation, the mayor of the town leaned over to me and said in English, “Her house is going to be condemned next month. We don’t know what to do. We have no money to help.”

At some point I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like a voyeur. The overbearing sense of helplessness began to weigh on me, so I created an alternative reality.

I convinced myself that the people we were visiting were acting — perhaps for the camera. I decided to look away, to ignore the problems that were presented before me — which is why, at our last stop, I refused to enter the house.

I stood by the car indignant and upset that Adrian and Livia had taken me to the home of an elderly women, caring for children, who was clearly uncomfortable and in need of some kind of material aid. Once again, I brought nothing. I had no food and no money. And this time, I had little empathy. I don’t know, maybe I was ashamed of my own privilege?

My colleagues from the Presbyterian Foundation, along with Adrian and Livia, returned to the car. None of them asked me about my decision to stay outside.

Instead, they recounted another tragic story that had become all too familiar: Six years ago, the children’s mother was lured by work “recruiters” from Russia, promising a job in the hospitality industry in Moscow. Thinking that she would work in a hotel or café, the mother gave money to the recruiters to purchase a work visa. She left. And has never been back. It is now known that she was trafficked into prostitution by an organized crime syndicate. Her children have spoken with her only twice since she’s been gone, and they do not know when or if she will return. The task of caring for her children has fallen to her impoverished and elderly mother — a situation that only continues the cycle of poverty and vulnerability that enables traffickers to take advantage of desperation.

***

After some reflection, I thought more critically about my own decision to not enter the house. Livia and Adrian, in the face of problems, never looked away. They listened to the stories of people and actively found ways to help. The work of CASMED and ProCoRe are testaments to the power of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming challenges. The nurses from CASMED provide not only medical assistance, but offer company and conversation, reminding those they care for that they are loved and remembered. Social workers from CASMED and ProCoRe assist elderly caretakers with their expenses, providing educational materials, a living stipend and food throughout the year. Youth counselors and workers provide job training, therapy sessions and organize cultural outings to help young survivors of trafficking heal. I began to feel ashamed that I, in my privilege, did not allow the children or the grandmother to tell me their story.

Livia, Adrian and all the individuals we visited, forced me to realize an often forgotten fact: that a crime like human trafficking affects entire communities in addition to those trafficked. Men who have been sent away to Moscow to work on construction sites as bonded laborers are unable to remain home and attend to their ailing mothers. Women forced into prostitution in Turkey are unable to care for their aging fathers. Bright students desperate for work and educational opportunities drift away to cities and across borders, weakening their communities and impoverishing the life and future of their villages.

But the story doesn’t need to stop there.

No matter how insidious the crime trafficking can be, together, survivors and regular people like you and me can fight back.

It is why Adrian and Livia continue to care and provide healing for all of those affected — the survivors and those who are left behind.

It’s why survivors themselves are often their own best advocates. They are strong, resilient people who have a lot to teach us.

It’s why we should never ignore their stories.

It’s why we should actively search for those places in our communities where trafficking is happening and volunteer, donate to, or work alongside those organizations fighting this terrible crime.

***

We were about an hour and half north of the capital Chisinau when I saw my final glimpse of the Moldovan countryside. It was awash in an auburn, early-morning light that intensified the dour hues of plowed fields and barren hillsides. Thousands of dried sunflower stalks shuddered in the wind while elderly farmers dressed in loose-fitting cotton overalls lounged under spindly beech trees. Women’s Orthodox headscarves splashed radiant shades of red and blue across the landscape as they slowly herded untethered cows into the irrigation canals for water. It was a bucolic, peaceful scene. For while the land showed signs of serious erosion and the people working the fields conveyed a life bereft of material wealth, it was nevertheless enticing. It was one of the few moments where I really paid attention, when I chose not to look away.

While Moldova might be far away, the trauma of trafficking hits close to home. As citizens of Milwaukee and the United States, we should work to fight injustice and human trafficking here and in places like Moldova. It might be uncomfortable and we might have to learn where we can be of help, but much more is lost when we avert our eyes and stand listlessly by on the roadside.

***

Jeremy Ault is the director of Diaconia Connections and an Analyst for Spectrum Nonprofit Services. He lives in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. For more information, please visit www.diaconiaconnections.org.

Read more

> Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, “A Crime Hidden in Plain Sight: Human Trafficking in Milwaukee,” Allison Dikanovic, Feb. 29, 2016,.

> Trafficking in Persons Report 2016, US Department of State.

> Homicide Review Commission Report, April 15, 2013, “Estimating the Number of Sex Trafficked Youth Using Contacts with the Milwaukee Police Department.”

 

Images provided by Jeremy Ault.
Images provided by Jeremy Ault.

Attorney General offers ‘national strategy’ to combat human trafficking

As part of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced the Justice Department’s National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking , as required by the 2015 Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.

In addition to this new national strategy, every year, the attorney general also submits the Attorney General’s Annual Report to Congress and Assessment of U.S. Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which details the programs and activities carried out by all federal agencies and sets forth recommended goals for the upcoming year.

The most recent report, for FY 2015, is available here.

The department also has launched www.justice.gov/humantrafficking as a central destination to learn more about the department’s efforts to combat the scourge of human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is one of the most devastating crimes that we confront,” said Lynch.  “The National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking summarizes the work that our many components and our U.S. Attorney’s Offices are doing to better help survivors and target traffickers. These efforts encourage increased collaboration within the department as well as between the department and our partners in order to build on our successes as we prepare to take on the work that remains.”

The National Strategy sets forth plans to enhance coordination within the department and to develop specific strategies within each federal district to stop human trafficking.

The National Strategy includes the following:

  • An assessment of the threat presented by human trafficking based on FBI case information.
  • An account of the work of the department’s components that are most extensively involved in anti-trafficking efforts, including the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit; the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section; the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices; the FBI; and various grant-making components within the Office of Justice Programs.
  • A description of the district-specific strategies developed by each U.S. Attorney’s Office.
  • A discussion of human trafficking and anti-trafficking efforts in Indian Country.
  • Information about annual spending dedicated to preventing and combating human trafficking.
  • A description of plans to encourage cooperation, coordination and mutual support between the private and non-profit sector and the department to combat human trafficking.

On the web

To learn more about the report and the department’s efforts to combat human trafficking visit www.justice.gov/humantrafficking.

Bible among most challenged books on latest list

On the latest list of books most objected to at public schools and libraries, one title has been targeted nationwide, at times for the sex and violence it contains, but mostly for the legal issues it raises. The Bible.

“You have people who feel that if a school library buys a copy of the Bible, it’s a violation of church and state,” says James LaRue, who directs the Office for Intellectual Freedom for the American Library Association, which released its annual 10 top snapshot of “challenged” books this week, part of the association’s “State of Libraries Report” for 2016.

“And sometimes there’s a retaliatory action, where a religious group has objected to a book and a parent might respond by objecting to the Bible.”

LaRue emphasized that the library association does not oppose having Bibles in public schools.

Guidelines for the Office for Intellectual Freedom note that the Bible “does not violate the separation of church and state as long as the library does not endorse or promote the views included in the Bible.”

The ALA also favors including a wide range of religious materials, from the Quran to the Bhagavad Gita to the Book of Mormon.

LaRue added that the association does hear of complaints about the Quran, but fewer than for the Bible.

The Bible finished sixth on a list topped by John Green’s “Looking for Alaska,” which has been cited for “offensive language” and sexual content. The runner-up, challenged for obvious reasons, was E L James’ raunchy romance “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

“I Am Jazz,” a transgender picture book by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, was No. 3, followed by another transgender story, Susan Kuklin’s “Beyond Magenta.”

The list also includes Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home,” Craig Thompson’s “Habibi,” Jeanette Winter’s “Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan” and David Leviathan’s “Two Boys Kissing,” with one objection being that it “condones public displays of affection.”

“Many of the books deal with issues of diversity,” LaRue said. “And that often leads to challenges.”

The association bases its list on news reports and on accounts submitted from libraries and defines a challenge as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.”

Just 275 incidents were compiled by the ALA, down from 311 the year before and one of the lowest on record.

The ALA has long believed that for every challenge brought to its attention, four or five others are not reported. LaRue says the association does not have a number for books actually pulled in 2015.

Challenged works in recent years have ranged from the Harry Potter novels to Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Discussing recent events, LaRue said he was concerned by legislation that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently vetoed forcing schools to warn parents if their children will be assigned books with sexually explicit content. A Fairfax County mother had protested the use of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Beloved” in her son’s high school senior class. The 1987 novel set in the post-Civil War era includes scenes depicting sex, rape and bestiality and has appeared occasionally on the ALA challenged books list.

“We see the danger of censorship moving from the school library into the English classroom,” LaRue said.

On the Web

www.ala.org

Plan on a ‘Savage’ Madison weekend April 1

When sex advice columnist Dan Savage, author of Savage Love and founder of the HUMP! Film Festival, brings both of his creations to Madison’s Barrymore Theatre April 1 and 2, it will be a homecoming of sorts for the gay media celebrity.

images - wigout - 032416 - SavageHeadshot2Savage’s career has spread beyond column-writing to encompass podcasts, television programs, political commentary and LGBT activism, but it all began behind the counter of the former Madison video store Four Star Video Heaven.

“I had moved to Madison in 1990 from Berlin with my then-boyfriend so he could get a Master’s degree at the UW,” says Savage, a Chicago native. “The plan was for him to get his degree and for us to move back to Berlin, but that didn’t happen.”

Savage was the night manager at the video store when he befriended Tim Keck, co-founder of the alternative newspaper The Onion. Keck at the time was preparing to move to Seattle and start The Stranger, an alternative news and entertainment weekly.

Savage made the offhand comment that Keck should make sure to add an advice column for the paper because of their popularity. Savage typed up a sample column by way of example and, to his surprise, Keck offered him the job.

“We started the column initially as a joke and I anticipated doing it for maybe six to 12 months,” Savage remembers. “I was a gay man offering straight people advice on straight sex in a sort of snarky, funny way, and they loved it.”

The move to Seattle proved the undoing of Savage’s relationship, but the start of a 25-year career as an advice columnist. His visit next month will be one more opportunity for Madison fans of his column (which currently runs weekly in Isthmus) to get in on the fun. He’ll also be recording an episode of his Savage Lovecast podcast on Friday, April 1.

“The deception at the heart of the advice column racket is that you appear to have all the answers because you never print questions to which you don’t have the answers,” Savage says. “The performance, sections of which will be used in future Savage Lovecast segments, is my column on its feet and will give the audience a chance to stump the expert.”

Savage has, indeed, been stumped before, including a time five years ago when he was doing another performance in Madison. An audience member asked him a question about female genitalia — about which he professes to be no authority — and that led to an on-stage call to a professional colleague at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex. The expert fielded the question and Savage relayed her answer to the audience.

Savage does not necessarily expect to be stumped during the April 1 Barrymore session, which can run anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours depending on audience preference, but he has his cellphone at the ready just in case.

images - wigout - 032416 - SavageHumpThe next day gets even more Savage. On April 2, he’ll return to the Barrymore to host the HUMP! Film Festival 2016, an annual review of amateur porn that started 11 years ago — also as a joke.

“The barriers to porn were beginning to fall, so we invited readers of The Stranger to make and submit amateur porn videos,” Savage says. “Would people send us porn knowing that it was going to be shown in a Seattle theater where their friends and neighbors might see it? They most certainly did.”

Savage was inundated with submissions of homemade pornographic shorts, but the real question was whether anyone would pay to see them. The paper rented a theater, and to the editor’s surprise, all of the showings completely sold out.

“This is a porn festival for people who wanted to be porn stars for a weekend,” Savage says. “It’s not commercial porn, it’s creative people having fun with their friends and lovers, sharing their kinks, identities and expression.”

HUMP! is also nondiscriminatory, mixing gay with straight porn and the kinky with the comical. By exposing everyone to literally everything imaginable, the 5-minute films offer a diverse experience that in the end has a positive impact on its audiences, Savage says.

“We watch the audiences to make sure there isn’t anything naughty going on and the reactions are almost always the same,” Savage says. “For the first 20 minutes the gay boys are knocked back in their chairs by giant scenes of cunnilingus and the straight boys are knocked back in their chairs whenever gay sex comes on, but eventually that changes. People stop seeing the differences in the types of porn and start seeing the similarities.”

Usually, the porn experience is selective, with the viewer choosing what he or she wants to see, Savage says. This is where the cumulative effect of HUMP! differs.

“If you’re sitting in front of your computer masturbating to porn, it’s something you enjoy, but this is not just that,” Savage says. “Even if the plumbing’s different, the desire, the lust and the vulnerability is the same, and all of those things are more important. And that’s the beauty of HUMP!”

Where Savage has trouble finding beauty these days is in the current presidential race. A history buff with a full shelf of books on World War II, Savage isn’t afraid to weigh in on individual candidates, especially Donald Trump. Based on historical comparisons he doesn’t like what he sees.

“It’s so hard to look at this election and not be hit with a white-hot panic over what’s happening,” Savage says. “It’s like a dormant virus and Trump is a biological agent that is activating that virus.”

Savage is especially troubled by the violence erupting among attendees at Trump rallies, something that also occurred in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power.

The author’s March 10 blog on The Stranger website contains footage of a North Carolina Trump rally during which an African-American protester is punched in the face by a ponytailed white man in a cowboy hat as officials escort him out the grandstands. The remaining members of the audience cheer as the African-American man is arrested.

“I am very disturbed by this, and if Trump wins the general election it’s only going to get worse,” Savage says. “It’s time for the white people who are appalled by this to start pushing back and fucking vote for whoever the Democrats nominate.”

The Republican Party itself needs to be shattered, less because of party officials and more because of the people who support it, he explains.

“The problem is the voters,” Savage adds. “It reminds me of the old Bertolt Brecht quote that referred to the East Berlin uprising against Communism in 1953.”

Taken from the poem, “The Solution,” Brecht postulated about the regime’s disappointment in its relationship with the populace the lived under its Communist thumb.

“[The leaflets] said the people had forfeited the government’s confidence,

And could only win it back by redoubled effort.

Wouldn’t it be simpler, in that case,

If the government dissolved the people and elected another?”

If such a step were possible, even that might not be enough, Savage says.

“The hate chickens have come home to the hate roost,” he adds.

Columnist Dan Savage brings Savage Love Live to Madison’s Barrymore Theatre, 2090 Atwood Ave. on April 1 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance plus a $3.50 convenience fee. Savage also will host HUMP! Film Festival 2016 at the Barrymore on April 2 with shows at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets are $18. Order online at barrymorelive.com.

Mazo Beach closed, state cites ‘illegal’ activity

Mazo Beach will be closed to the public beginning on March 8, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Mazo Beach, which has enjoyed a reputation as one of the nation’s most popular nude beaches, is in the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway about 6 miles southwest of Sauk City on the south side of the Wisconsin River.

The DNR, in a news release, said it would close 140 acres of the 46,000 acre Riverway property. Three years ago, the state announced it would close the beach on weekdays. Already the DRN closed the area at night and banned beach camping in the late 1990s.

The reason for the closure is “illegal behavior, such as drug use and public sexual activity.This illegal and illicit behavior that developed there over several decades has created a pattern that discourages broader use of the property,” according to DNR natural resources area supervisor Brian Hefty.

The announcement from the department said the area would be closed until further notice and “pending re-development.”

The state is updating a master plan for the riverway, which involves gathering public comments. The redevelopment would be to “provide a range of recreational opportunities to a broad group of citizens.”

“Despite an increase in incremental management efforts implemented over a long period of time to curb illegal and illicit behavior at Mazomanie Beach, including weekday and partial closures, this type of behavior has continued on the property,” Hefty said.

This activity, according to the DNR, “limited user diversity … and has had an adverse impact on people who are interested in pursuing other recreational opportunities in the area, but who would avoid the area because of discomfort and concern with current illegal activity.”

State changes would involve constructing a changing building and picnic shelter, providing toilet facilities and improving the parking lot to handle at least 50 vehicles.

The plan also calls for “a rustic day use area on the river shore at the north end of Conservation Drive that would provide picnic tables, water and grills and a picnic shelter; a new carry-in canoe landing; and 4 to 8 miles of primitive to lightly developed hiking trails.”

Hefty stated, “The expanded recreational facilities and re-development through master planning will provide for an overall enhanced experience for property users while reducing illegal and illicit activity.”

The DNR said law enforcement officers still would patrol the property and individuals in violation of the closure would be cited.

The DNR closed the beach under NR 45.04 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code, which the department “may close, by posted notice, any land, structure or property owned or administered by the state of Wisconsin and under the management, supervision and control of the department. No person may enter or be in any building installation or area that may be locked or closed to public use or contrary posted notice without a written permit from the property superintendent.”

Where in Wisconsin is Mazo Beach?

The beach on Google Maps.

Recommended reading …

Nature in the buff.

Supreme Court will hear first abortion case since 2007

The Supreme Court is giving an election-year hearing to a dispute over state regulation of abortion clinics in the court’s first abortion case in eight years.

The justices will hear arguments, probably in March, over a Texas law that would leave only about 10 abortion clinics open across the state. A decision should come by late June, four months before the presidential election.

The issue split the court 5-4 the last time the justices decided an abortion case in 2007, and Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to hold the controlling vote on a divided court.

The case tests whether tough new standards for clinics and the doctors who work in them are reasonable measures intended to protect women’s health or a pretext designed to make abortions hard, if not impossible, to obtain.

Texas clinics challenged the 2013 law as a violation of a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

The high court previously blocked parts of the Texas law. The court took no action on a separate appeal from Mississippi, where a state law would close the only abortion clinic, in Jackson.

States have enacted a wave of measures in recent years that have placed restrictions on when in a pregnancy abortions may be performed, imposed limits on abortions using drugs instead of surgery and raised standards for clinics and the doctors who work in them.

The new case concerns the last category. In Texas, the fight is over two provisions of the law that then-Gov. Rick Perry signed in 2013. One requires abortion facilities to be constructed like surgical centers. The other allows doctors to perform abortions at clinics only if they have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Twenty-two states have surgical center requirements for abortion clinics, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports legal access to abortion. Eleven states impose admitting privileges requirements on doctors who perform abortions in clinics, the institute said.

The measures go beyond what is necessary to ensure patients’ safety because the risks from abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy, when the overwhelming majority of abortions are performed, are minimal, the institute said.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Texas is one of several states that have enacted “sham laws” to restrict access to abortion.” This law does not advance women’s health and in fact undermines it,” Northup said.

There is no dispute that the law has had a significant impact on Texas clinics. The state had 41 abortion clinics before the clinic law. More than half of those closed when the admitting privileges requirement was allowed to take effect. Nineteen clinics remain.

Northup said the effect of the law has been to increase wait times for women in the Dallas area from an average of five days to 20 days.

The focus of the dispute at the Supreme Court is whether the law imposes what the court has called an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. If allowed to take full effect, the law would leave no abortion clinics west of San Antonio and only one operating on a limited basis in the Rio Grande Valley.

The state has argued that women in west Texas already cross into New Mexico to obtain abortions at a clinic in suburban El Paso.

In its decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in 1992, the court ruled that states generally can regulate abortion unless doing so places an undue burden on women. Casey was a huge victory for abortion-rights advocates because it ended up reaffirming the constitutional right to an abortion that the court established in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2007, a divided court upheld a federal law that bans an abortion procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion and opened the door to new limits on abortion.

Kennedy was one of three authors of the Casey opinion and he wrote the majority opinion in 2007.

Public opinion polls have consistently shown an edge for abortion rights. Fifty-one percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in most or all cases and 45 percent think it should be illegal in most or all cases, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll in January and February.

The case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, 15-274.

Odom tragedy lays bare Nevada’s brothel industry

When former NBA player and reality-TV star Lamar Odom was found unconscious in Nevada, the hardest part of the story for some people to wrap their heads around was this: He was in a brothel. A legal brothel.

Not so far removed from its Wild West past, Nevada is the only outpost in America where a person can legally purchase sex, and even then, only in 10 of its 17 counties. It is up to each county to decide whether to allow prostitution.

“Mining, ranching, prostitution, gambling is just Nevada,” said Tom Collins, a cowboy-hat-wearing former state legislator and former commissioner in Clark County, the home of Las Vegas — which, for all its many vices, has not legalized prostitution. You won’t find lawful bordellos in or around Reno, either.

While the law of supply and demand would suggest that Nevada’s houses of ill repute are doing great, the truth is they are struggling to remain relevant in a world in which Las Vegas is awash in call girls and a sexual liaison — licit or illicit — is only a smartphone app away.

The number of brothels open for business has fallen from 30 in 2009, according to University of Nevada-Las Vegas research, to something closer to 17 today. The exact number isn’t clear, since the state doesn’t advertise the fact anywhere.

Those that remain are trying to reinvent themselves.

Brothels once filled with women who sweet-talked truckers on their CB radios are now reaching out to potential customers via live-streaming events, blogs and social media and sprucing up their accommodations for weekend getaways and fantasy role-playing.

Naughty teacher? There’s a faux classroom for that. Or a “lustful locker room” or “Geisha girl bedroom,” both recent additions to Sheri’s Ranch in Pahrump.

Odom, 35, was found on Tuesday at the Love Ranch in Pahrump, where he had paid $75,000 for a four-day stay. He remained hospitalized Thursday. His condition was not disclosed, but the Rev. Jesse Jackson visited him on Wednesday and said the former athlete and estranged husband of Khloe Kardashian was on life support.

The Love Ranch said Odom told at least one of the women when he arrived on Saturday that he had used cocaine earlier in the day. And he bought 10 sexual stimulants, or “herbal Viagra,” during his stay, according to a brothel spokesman.

Getting to the Love Ranch deep in the barren desert requires about an hour’s drive from Las Vegas that slices through cactus-covered expanses and mountains.

A doorbell outside the main brothel dictates one ring for sex, two rings for just a drink at the bar. Upon hearing a single ring, the women rush from their rooms and line up to be chosen.

Odom’s getaway at the Love Ranch wasn’t a themed fantasy room, just a typical three-bedroom rental out back with wood floors, a living room, kitchen and outdoor Jacuzzi.

It’s an industry that doesn’t seem to have many powerful friends willing to make a public display of their affection.

Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin tried to impose a state tax on the industry in 2009 when he was in the Legislature. The bordellos didn’t mind, and even welcomed the proposed levy, in the hope that the revenue would create goodwill toward the industry. The measure failed in committee.

“One guy, lost his nerve just before the vote,” Coffin said, adding that the man’s wife was sitting in the front row. “No one ever wants to put their name on a bill relating to prostitution.”

The state was hurting for money at the time, in the midst of the Great Recession, and he estimated his fee could have raised a couple of million dollars a year.

“We allow everything else but man’s greatest urge, greatest desire. We satisfy everything else,” Coffin said. “I would like to regulate it and bring it under control and get it off the streets. It’s dangerous out there.”

But Republican state Sen. Joe Hardy said taxing brothels would “give legitimacy to a profession … that may not meet the Judeo-Christian religious approval.”

“I’m not sure we want to paint the whole state of Nevada with that reputation,” he said.

Associated Press writers Brian Skoloff in Pahrump, Nevada, and Michelle Rindels in Carson City, Nevada, contributed to this story

Defying Hollywood conventions in ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’

When you make a film where a 15-year-old girl sleeps with her mother’s 35-year-old boyfriend, a few things are certain: You’re going to make some people uncomfortable and you’re going to get feedback. A lot of it.

But first time director Marielle Heller knew what she wanted for The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and it didn’t involve ensuring people were comfortable.

Heller’s adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel looks at teenage sexuality from the point of view of the teenager. There’s no judgment. There’s just the story of aspiring artist Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley), a 1970s San Francisco teen with a neglectful, hard-partying single mother (Kristin Wiig) and a yearning for self-actualization. When her mom’s boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) opens the door to an intimate encounter, Minnie jumps right in.

Even the first line of the film proved controversial to some: “I had sex today.”

“Most movies would have spent the first 30 minutes getting to know the character before she had sex,” Heller says.

Many advised Heller to consider that approach.

“For Minnie, that’s where this chapter of her life begins,” she says. A long intro would have only been there to satisfy screenwriting conventions and to coax audiences into the story.

People also suggested standard Hollywood plot contrivances, like having Minnie end up with a boy her own age at the end, which wholly contradicted the point of the story. This was a story about Minnie’s journey to self-acceptance outside of male validation, she thought.

“We’re in a place where for so, so, so long men have been controlling movies,” Heller said. “I’m not saying it’s some major, master, malicious plan, but I do think there is a serious lack of comfort when it comes to talking about young women and their sexuality.”

It was a blessing then that Heller, a writer and actress, found a financier — international production company Caviar — that gave her the freedom to execute her vision, even if it was on a shoestring budget with lots of help from friends and family.

Most essential, though, was finding the perfect Minnie.

Heller, who’d played the part on stage, had a seemingly impossible list of qualities that she needed an actress to satisfy: To look young but also old; to be an every woman but incredibly special; to be believable as a comic book nerd; and to be beautiful and sexually confident but still exude the awkwardness of a teenager. Powley stood out as the rare embodiment of all those contradictions.

Now 23, British actor Powley had been sending tapes to the United States for years and hadn’t booked anything. When she put her name in for Minnie, she wasn’t expecting much, but she’d never read a role that resonated with her so deeply.

Simply, it reminded her of being a teenager, and that alone was revolutionary.

“I think there’s such a vicious cycle surrounding teenage girls and female sex. People are scared of it, so they won’t talk about it and people don’t talk about it because they’re scared of it,” says Powley. “I wanted to be part of this project which was going to potentially break that cycle.”

Once she was cast, she and Heller decided to forgo agents and managers and lawyers and “nudity riders” and work something out together. Trust was essential.

“I think having a female director was really important to her and me being an actor meant that I knew what I was asking her to do,” Heller says. “I’ve been topless in a play. I know how hard that is. I knew what I was asking of her and she felt that.”

Part of that trust came from knowing they both had the same objective.

“We wanted to make a movie about coming-of-age and exploring sexuality,” Powley said. “We didn’t want to make a movie about a 15-year-old fu**ing a 35-year-old man.”

While the relationship between Minnie and Monroe is controversial on paper, on screen it’s never presented as exploitative.

“The movie is all told from Minnie’s point of view. If she doesn’t feel it’s creepy, we shouldn’t feel it’s creepy,” Heller said.

In an effort to ensure that the film reaches its intended audience, Heller worked to secure an R-rating. She wouldn’t disclose the changes, but said that they didn’t compromise the integrity of the film.

“I was very surprised by how well it went,” she said, especially considering the fact that, in the U.K., it was slapped with an “18” rating — which both Heller and Powley found dismaying.

“A board of men decided that this movie was not suitable for young women,” Heller said. “Nobody tries to shelter young men from the realities of the world. Why do we try to shelter young women?”

Lotsa grinding, little plot in ‘Magic Mike XXL’

There’s an early scene in “Magic Mike XXL” that hints at what this much ballyhooed sequel woulda, coulda, shoulda been.

Mike Lane, played by the well nigh irresistible Channing Tatum, is alone in his furniture workshop. As he saws, measures and sands, the beat of the music he’s listening to starts to transport him.  He can’t stop himself: he begins to dance, all around the shop, over and under the tools, a guy who just can’t keep those limbs from moving.

Tatum’s a great dancer and a wonderfully physical actor. We’d watch him do this all night. But we don’t get to.

Instead, we get almost two hours of often rambling setup, finally leading to a long-awaited climax when Tatum, fellow chiseled stud Matt Bomer and their buff male stripper cohorts take the stage to bump, hump, grind and swivel tirelessly as gleeful women rain dollar bills onto their oiled skin. Yes, we admire this tirelessness. But is it treasonous to suggest that eventually it becomes tiresome, too?

Those who fondly remember the original “Magic Mike” will be sad to realize that Matthew “Alright Alright Alright” McConaughey is missing this time around. So is director Steven Soderbergh, though he’s back as cinematographer and editor; his associate Gregory Jacobs has taken the reins. What’s most obviously missing in this sequel, though, is a real plot.  What there is can be summed up in five words:  Road Trip to Stripper Convention. Or maybe six: Long Road to Stripper Convention. 

We begin three years after Mike traded the stripper life for his long-held dream of setting up his own custom furniture company. It’s not going as well as he’d planned. 

Suddenly, Mike gets a call. It’s a ruse, but it brings him back to his old buddies from the Kings of Tampa, planning one last big stab at glory before retiring their act at the convention in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

One last show:  Hardly an original premise. Still, there are moments of fun. One of these comes at a gas station convenience store manned by a young woman with an apparent inability to smile. Mike, seeking to convince Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) that he has the creativity to move out of his stock fireman character, challenges him to find a way to make the young lady grin. He does, and gets his mojo back.

But too often, the gang’s stops on the way to the contest _ sort of a male stripper-themed “Little Miss Sunshine,” when you think about it _ start well and then just go on forever. This is true of a visit to a private Savannah strip club, whose owner, Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith) has an unresolved past with Mike.

Rome and Mike? The idea is intriguing. But we never learn much about what happened. Things get sewn up quickly, and we move on. The same happens with the oddly unsatisfying (for us) relationship Mike strikes up with a pretty photographer (Amber Heard) he meets one night. We’d like to know more; she’s still there at the end of the movie, and we don’t really know why.

But maybe all that’s beside the point. The only thing that really matters is the giant show at the end, where each man gets his moment to shine, though frankly we’d have been happy just to fast forward to Tatum. But even when the star takes the stage, some of us might wish he’d do a little less, uh, simulating, and a little more actual dancing. 

By the end, we’re somewhat exhausted. Surely “XXL” in the title wasn’t meant to indicate the length of the movie, but it rather feels like it. Sometimes a medium is a better fit.

Apologies issued for abuse lawsuit filed vs. Hollywood execs

Attorneys who sued on behalf of a former aspiring actor, claiming he was abused by two Hollywood executives, have apologized for the lawsuits and say they believe the allegations were untrue.

In letters issued last week, attorney Jeffrey Herman of Boca Raton, Florida, apologized to television executives Garth Ancier and David Neuman for lawsuits claiming that they had abused Michael Egan in 1999.

The lawsuits were filed in Hawaii in April 2014. They claimed Egan had been abused there and in California.

“Based on what I know now, I believe that I participated in making what I now know to be untrue and proveably false allegations against you,” Herman said in separate letters to Ancier and Neuman.

“I deeply regret the pain, suffering and damage the lawsuits and publicity have caused you, and your family, friends and colleagues,” Herman wrote.

Attorney Mark Gallagher of Kailua, Hawaii, apologized to Ancier for his role in the lawsuit. “Unfortunately, I now do not believe that the allegations in the lawsuit were true and accurate,” he wrote.

The apologies were accompanied by unspecified monetary compensation. The payment was “in the seven figures,” according to a spokesman for Ancier.

Ancier was a high-ranking executive at the NBC, Fox and WB networks. Neuman is a former TV executive with Current TV and Disney.

Egan claimed the men abused him in Hawaii in 1999 when he was 17. Egan also sued “X-Men” director Bryan Singer and Gary Wayne Goddard, a theater producer.

All four denied the allegations as soon as the lawsuits were filed. Singer and Ancier said they weren’t even in Hawaii when Egan said he was abused.

Ancier and Neuman eventually countersued Egan for malicious prosecution.

The lawsuits against Neuman and Ancier were dismissed in June 2014. The lawsuits against Singer and Goddard were dropped by Egan around the same time.

In a prepared statement, Ancier said the attorneys who brought the false claim were making a significant financial payment for bringing a case that didn’t have any merit, finally proving that “a convicted scam artist’s claims” were entirely made up.

“I said on day one this was all absolutely false and I’m certainly pleased that’s now been admitted by the lawyers responsible for transforming absurd fabrications into a real-life nightmare for me,” Ancier said.