The Truth about the Lawrence Taylor Case

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There’s a lot happening in the world right now that I could write about. The final Presidential Debate (which I couldn’t watch re: stolen television). Several young girls gone missing and subsequently found dead (re: Colorado, New Jersey, New Hampshire). The latest Republican to speak out against women’s rights and offend rape survivors and rape advocates every where (re: Richard Mourdock, Indiana). But these things are being written about – my Google newsfeed is blowing up regarding these events. What I’d rather write about is something that’s tucked behind these big headlines: the civil suit that began against Lawrence Taylor by the young woman who he sexually assaulted in 2010.

The very way I framed that sentence is why I want to write about this today. The news is not framing it as such – with Lawrence Taylor the perpetrator and the young woman the victim. Rather, the news is saying

 “A teenager who has accused former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor of sexually assaulting her when she was 16 cried Tuesday as she described her encounter with the NFL Hall of Famer at the start of a civil trial.”

That is the first sentence of this story in the HuffPo (I know, not the gold standard in journalism but it has hundreds of thousands of readers). I read this and thought “I thought Taylor was convicted?” and then I thought “who the hell cares if he was I the NFL Hall of Fame, he raped a minor.” At least my first reaction was most likely shared by everyone who also read this article. Well friends, Lawrence Taylor did sexually assault her. He pleaded guilty (see next paragraph from article):

“Taylor pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of sexual misconduct and patronizing an underage prostitute for having sex with her in 2010 and is serving six years of probation.”

To most, this is a trivial sequence of events displayed in the article. To most, they wouldn’t stop to think about why it was framed this way. To most, they would say “well they did eventually tell us that he pleaded guilty.” But I urge you all to think a little harder and look a little deeper into this story.

The victim was 16 at the time that Lawrence Taylor sexually assaulted her. He not only raped her, but he paid for the rape. Though Mourdock would probably say “Well, it’s God’s blessing that she had sex and got money” and Todd Atkin would say “… and her body shut the chance of pregnancy down,” I say that this is a federal crime of human trafficking. According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, any minor (under the age of 18) engaged in commercial sex is automatically considered a victim of human trafficking. But NY State law does not parallel the Federal law. Therefore, this case was not treated as human trafficking – or at least it was not talked about through a human trafficking lens. In the article in the HuffPo there is one sentence telling the reader that the man who brought the minor to have sex at the hotel (with Lawrence Taylor) was sentenced to 7 years in prison. We are not told on what charges. Again, overlooking human trafficking and the essence of the crime.

Lawrence Taylor is a wealthy, well-known, successful athlete who was (not sure if he still is) married. To most, this is not what we imagine when we think of men who purchase sex. But the reality is that men who purchase sex have decent income and often fall into higher income brackets. They also often have consistent sex partners such as a girl friend or wife. Again, this wouldn’t be talked about in great detail because a) the awareness is not there b) Lawrence Taylor was an NFL player. Enough said. I mean, it is so obvious by the very last paragraph that the HuffPo leaves the reader with:

“Taylor, who lives in Broward County, Fla., led the Giants to Super Bowl titles in 1987 and 1991. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. He was expected to testify Wednesday.”

We are left to walk away from this story remembering his football success and fame, not the fact that he forced himself on a 16 year old and then paid her for the rape.

Rewind a little bit in the article and we get a glimpse of the argument that Taylor’s lawyer makes from the outset:

“Taylor’s lawyer, Arthur Aidala, said in his opening statement that Taylor never used violence, never threatened Fierro and thought she was sent by a friend who offered “female companionship.”

Mr. Aidala, you are a man of the law. You should know that rape is typically not a violent act. You are just feeding into the misconception that violence and physical force has to be inflicted in order to be considered rape. Your buddy Paul Ryan is calling, he wants his policy back. Then you make an idiotic excuse that Taylor thought the girl was being sent for “female companionship.” Well sir, when I know I am meeting potential friends or even current friends, I don’t go to a hotel room and get naked. Nor does the rest of the world. Also, let’s talk about why he wasn’t seeking “female companionship” from his wife. Oh, you don’t want to go into his personal life? Well, I don’t want the government up my vagina and in my uterus either nor do I want rape culture to continue to be reiterated in the media, but clearly it doesn’t matter what I (women) think.

Oh and then you, Mr. Aidala, try to blame the victim. You ask the judge to allow adding into evidence the results of the rape kit that allegedly show semen from two men, including Taylor. What you are trying to prove within the sole context of this crime I am not sure. But what you are trying to prove because you’re an asshole is that she was promiscuous and slept with two men therefore there’s no way it could be sexual assault. Again, I want to remind you, Mr. Aidala, that she was 16 and sold for sex. I also want to remind you that children in the commercial sex trade sleep with 10, 20, 30, 60, men per day. THAT is the reality you should be proving with this evidence. THAT is the reality society should hold attorneys accountable for proving. We are so far from there.

It is about damn time we start holding the correct people accountable in this country when it comes to violence against women. It is about damn time we stop victim blaming and start viewing as victims as such. It is about damn time we start taking about human trafficking and the realities of prostitution. These cases like Lawrence Taylor’s are not the exception. They are the norm. If you aren’t outraged that a 16 year old was in the commercial sex trade because you were blinded by the fame and athleticism of Lawrence Taylor you are as guilty as he is.

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Victimization through a clearer lens

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For the past 6.5 years I have worked with victims. I have empathized, validated feelings, and normalized emotions and thoughts in the context of the horrible crimes committed against them. I have tried to understand through mere human connection to the victims I work with but I have never been able to fully understand given that I have never been victimized in such a way. I still cannot understand what it is like to be a victim of rape, domestic violence, or human trafficking — the three primary types of victimization I work with. But I can now, unfortunately, understand what it is like to be a victim of a crime.

On Friday night, some one or some people entered my home unlawfully and took close to $5,000 of my property. They walked in, wearing gloves or something over their hands to prevent leaving any mark of their identity, and they stole my property. They did so in such a neat and orderly way. Nothing aside from a book on the floor and a shuffled through underwear drawer was out of place minus the stolen goods. They took away items that at the end of the day are materialistic — electronics and jewelry. But these items represent a lot to myself and my partner. They demonstrate hard work and independence — being able to purchase these goods on our own. The $1,000 in jewelry that was stolen from my Lia Sophia small business venture that I started just a few weeks ago represents my independence as a woman and my ability to be an entrepreneur. The jewelry was not just the means to making money from this venture but it represented a way to empower women to beautify their lives and make a living on their own. The jewelry was gong to help me tap into charitable networks and raise funds for non profit organizations within my community. Now, I await a phone call to see if Lia Sophia will allow me to get a new starter kit of jewelry or if they’ll say “so sad, but you’ll have to buy a new one.” They stole my own personal jewelry that friends and family have given me over the years. My mom’s pearls. Bracelets from my grandparents. A bracelet from a high school best friend who has since exited my life for good due to confusing and unnecessary events — that bracelet sat in my jewelry box simply as a reminder of a great friendship and how fast things can change. The jewelry box they stole was given to me after my grandfather died. It reminded me of his comical love for shopping via TV ads and hording his purchases for god knows what. They not only stole my TV but the opportunity to relax in my partners arms at the end of a long day of work to laugh at our favorite show or learn of the events happening all across the nation and world. They stole my love for sports and the joy I get by sitting in my own home, screaming at the TV and cheering on the Celtics. They stole the opportunity to read the news and enjoy breakfast each morning as we are always crunched for time but wanting to know what is happening around us.

I now know what it is like to have something valuable and meaningful stripped away from you without warning and without any looking back. I know what it like to feel out of control and afraid due to someone else’s actions. I know what it is like to have a constant reminder of the crime committed against you. Every time I walk into my living room I see open space where our TV once stood or into my bedroom and see my dresser top bare without my jewelry box and stripped of a memory of my Papa.

I know what it is like to feel as though the police are not on your side. I know what it is like to feel dominated and unequal in the presence of the police. I know what it is like to expect some empathy and compassion in times of distress and horror but only receive robotic, condescending answers. I know what it is like to desperately desire a solution and justice being served but only get “I am so sorry that happened to you” over and over again.

I can now see through a wider, clearer lens when working with the victims that I do. No, I was not raped. My partner did not beat me. I was not forced against my will to participate in prostitution or other slave labor. But I understand the essence of what it is like to be a victim a little more now. In the grand scheme of things the crime committed against me this weekend was so small and trivial compared to the violence and exploitation I see every day. I will not begin to say I understand but I will be able to relate to the feeling of loss of control, invasion of privacy, and losing things that are valuable and meaningful with no justice being served. I have experienced how hard it is to work with the police because the goals are just not shared. I have experienced how twisted and complicated the system is. I have felt pure frustration that criminals rights are protected more than the victim’s rights.

I come away from this more understanding and empathetic to those who struggle with these feelings, behaviors, thoughts, and actions every day due to the victimization they have experienced. I cannot imagine being a person from a marginalized or oppressed population or someone who does not speak English or someone who is not from this country and therefore unfamiliar with the twisted and complicated system by which we refer to as “criminal justice.” I do not say this from a place of privilege. I say it actually by standing outside my privilege and seeing that the system is not built to protect the vulnerable, marginalized, oppressed people in our society. I say it with deep sadness and disgust.

But the criminal. The person or people who entered my home illegally and took my things. I hope he/she/they at least know that what they did was wrong. I hope that some one in their life has cared or does care enough to teach them right from wrong. Even for those who do know right from wrong, wrongs are committed all of the time. People get caught up in the pressures, stresses, and mere impossible aspects of life and see no other solution than the wrong. I cannot begin to understand what that is like. Given the nature of burglary today, my items were most likely sold to pay for drugs, alcohol, or to feed the burglars and their families. This is what society has come to. Someone has to enter my home illegally to pay for things that, in their eyes, they need to survive. I can here the Conservative platform already — PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. THEY COULD GET A JOB AND PAY FOR THESE THINGS. But it is not that simple. It is not that black & white. As we enter into one of the most important elections in my generation’s history, I hope that we all remember that personal responsibility is not as simple as getting a job and doing the right thing all of the time. Life hands us a lot of struggles and it is not humanly possible to handle these problems alone and come out as an accountable, responsible, educated, self-sufficient human being. So yes, I want justice to be served because my life was violated. But if I could sit down with the person/people that burglarized my home I would ask why they chose the wrong instead of the right. I would ask them who has helped them in their life and who has hurt them. At the end of the day, we need to understand why these crimes occur and we need to help society prevent these crimes from occurring. If you think cutting taxes for the rich, cutting social services and public welfare, sending jobs over the pond, and doing close to nothing to change our broken and failing education system will prevent these crimes from happening my heart hurts for you just about as much as it hurts for the person/people who felt they had to choose wrong to survive.

It’s a Man’s world, ladies.

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Two out of three of the debates this campaign season were moderated by women. I commend the Commissions for allowing this and encouraging it. With that being said, we can’t forget everything about a Presidential race is strategic and in a year where the women’s vote is so valuable and looked upon, I can’t say I’m too impressed that they “chose” women to moderate.

It certainly does not mean that we are, as a society, ready to accept women. Governor Romney demonstrated that perfectly in his offensive and extremely ignorant answer to the question posed about equal pay for equal work. Women make $.72 to the dollar compared to men. It’s a struggle our nation has faced for far too many years. We have done a terrible job talking about this issue holistically and we fail to get to the root of the problem. That’s the norm here in the U.S. But Romney went far beyond our failures to address this issue appropriately but essentially telling us women how to let the men help us in their world. He boasted about he brought women onto his cabinet. He tried to argue that a strong economy would give us women that opportunity. And to get to that “strong economy,” men are gonna help us.

Are you… wait, you’re for real Governor? You think answering a question about women’s rights by talking about how strong men who already have that opportunity are going to pave the way for women is appropriate? You basically said we need the men to make the economy strong so then there’s a place for women. Um no, regardless of the economy — recession or economic boom — women should be treated equal by employment policies and protections. On the principal of equality not on the principles of economy and your entitlement, Governor Romney. President Clinton helped us grow a strong economy. Women were still not equal.

ImageWomen hit the glass ceiling because no woman can be CEO of a company with the expectation of growing a successful company and also raise a family. It’s really hard to keep a company running when your CEO is on maternity leave. That’s just a reality. So women are being forced to choose between their career goals and their desire to have children and raise a family. Men do not have to face this choice. They can be a father and go to work every day to maintain and grow their company if they are CEO. A board looking to hire is going to see maternity leave when looking at a woman’s resume and commitment Let’s consider if contraception coverage was in the hands of the employer. Now let’s take a company that is primarily run by men but with women who are trying to move up. Of course they are not going to cover contraception because that makes the women more competitive.

Women need healthcare protections and family planning protections in order to achieve their career goals. Reducing these protections only strengthens that glass ceiling. President Obama did an excellent job of pointing out these very critical factors that reinforce the inequality in the workforce.

Governor Romney’s answer to this question highlights one of my greatest frustration with this Presidential race — and all political rhetoric, really. We always focus on economic issues. Immigration, oil, education, etc. all come down to growing our economy. Yes, that is true and indisputable. But what I cannot stand is when a social issue is put on the table — rarely, at that — the conversation quickly goes to the economy. Equality has nothing to do with the economy. It’s a human rights issue and a social justice issue. It is terrifying that the political discourse can not begin to address it as such. It is dangerous for my future. It is dangerous for humanity and it goes against values that the Untied States has been and should continue to be grounded in.

More women are graduating from college. There are more women in this country. These are mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, grandmothers. Every one has a woman in their life that they love unconditionally. It boggles my mind how that connection across our nation gets so broken down by rhetoric, numbers, and politics to reduce us down to helping men grow the economy. I will not stand for it. I will use my right to vote that women fought for almost a century ago to maintain my rights. I hope you fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, uncles, and grandfathers vote for rights in addition to the bottom line.

 

It’s college — Rape is cool, dude!

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Ever wish you knew where to find the Top 10 list of things to do when raping someone to not get caught? Yea, me neither. But someone thought it was critical to provide these tips to men at the University of Miami (the Ohio one). Because I mean, c’mon guys “RAPE RAPE RAPE, its college boys live it up!” as the last tip read.

No, I’m not lying. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Yea, I am angry. Disgusted. Frustrated. Furious. Etc. Yes, I may have cursed out loud on my lunch break at work when I read this on my Google News feed. But it does nothing to just be angry at whoever thought it was okay to put this up in the men’s bathroom in one of the Halls. It does nothing to be furious that no one immediately ripped it down and went to faculty to talk about this horrible excuse for an advertisement in the guys bathroom.

I am focusing my anger and disgust on asking why this even happens. I have an answer and I don’t have a concrete solution — which just adds to my frustrations. The answer is because men do get away with rape. All of the time. To the point it becomes somewhat comical among and leads to these offensive signs to be posted. Rape is becoming the norm on college campuses and throughout society. Our judges have not stood up against it. Our citizens sitting on juries have not stood up against rape. Our police officers have not stood up against sexual assault. Our faculty and administration at universities — small, large, Ivy league, or filled with athletes — have not stood up against the rape happening on their own campuses. If these people aren’t standing up against it and holding those who rape accountable, how can we expect men not to post these absurdly disgusting signs in their bathroom?

David Lisak, a clinical psychologist at the University of Massachusettes Boston, studies predators and has done extensive research on rape on college campuses. After talking to over 2,000 college students, he found that 1 in 16 men reported that they had committed. These men were also found to be repeat offenders with each men committing approximately 6 rapes. The rapists are also strategic in that they prey upon vulnerable freshman who do not have as much experience with drinking. Not only are these girls lacking control due to being intoxicated, but they now lack credibility in the criminal justice system due to the fact that they were drinking (under age) and probably wearing a skirt and low cut shirt. .

How often do you hear about sexual assault on campus? Not often enough, for one. Secondly, if you do hear about it it’s typically about an athlete (that’s the only reason you’re hearing about it) raping another student and often times avoiding a charge. Men know that they can get away with sexually assaulting a woman and we can only blame the rapist and society. We need to teach men not to rape rather than teach women how to “hold their liquor.” We need to ensure our law enforcement personnel, judges, and peers convict rapists rather than humiliating the victim in order to let him go free.

We need to read the research — starting with Dr. Lisak’s — to understand the predator aspect of rape. To understand why men rape. We can’t understand the concept of rape without digging into the why. And why does not mean blaming the victim. If women were valued or nearly equal (not even equal) in our society the ways in which we respond to injustices against them would be drastically different. For starters, we would think forcing a woman to have sex would be an injustice. Sadly, we aren’t quite there.

Prostitution is not so Pristine.

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A small, well-to-do, white picket fence town in Maine has been rocked by what is being called a “scandal of the century.” A 29 year old Zumba dance studio owner has been charged with running a prostitution ring out of her fitness center office. These allegations have occupied New England news for the past few days and have proved that no community can or should consider that they are exempt from the commercial sex industry.

I have fond memories of traveling to Maine every summer for the majority of my childhood – traveling to Wells, Kennebunkport, Ogunquit, Weirs Beach, etc. to see the sites, shop at the quaint stores, eat Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, gorge on lobster, clams and fried shrimp, and spend countless hours at the beach building sandcastles and hopping waves. I get why Maine residents do not want to fathom that prostitution could exist in their community. Maine sparks a pristine memory for residents and tourists alike.

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But sometimes, we have to look beneath the surface and see the flaws of our community. Otherwise, we are living in a fantasy world and ignoring injustices occurring in our own backyards.

            One large dilemma facing this community in the aftermath of this scandal is the notion that the names of the 150+ men who purchased sex from this fitness instructor could be released to the public. Word on the street is that some of these men are lawyers, law enforcement personnel, and other well-respected individuals in the community. The community can’t let go of that pristine image and they sure as hell can’t grasp the idea that their neighbors, professionals, and trusted constituents could be purchasing sex after work.

 

            I get it. It’s hard to understand and come to terms with – but that doesn’t mean we should not accept it. Because the reality is – the average salary of men who purchase sex is not low. Johns (men who purchase sex) should not be profiled as non-white, uneducated, lower-class individuals. In a study in Chicago, 113 johns were interviewed and 62% made more than $40,000 a year. Additionally, 62% of the johns had a regular sex partner (i.e. girlfriend or wife). I have talked to women who have been in the commercial sex trade and they have told me they do not trust the police because police officers purchased sex from them. It’s not a pristine reality like residents of this community are used to, but it is the actual reality.

 

            I am torn about the idea of disclosing the names to the public, however. Research from the Chicago study did show that 87% of johns thought public exposure would deter them from purchasing sex. Having your name and sometimes picture posted for the public to see is embarrassing and shameful  — likely being a deterrent. However, that likelihood has never been studied because a very small percentage of johns are caught and arrested and therefore not many are publically exposed. So on the one hand, we have to start exposing them to end the demand for commercial sex. But on the other hand, these men may have wives/girlfriends and children. The humiliation does not stay isolated within the man who purchased sex. Men have to be held accountable but I am not sure to what extent that should go. Regardless, the community should understand that the men who purchased sex from this fitness instructor are friends, family, and trusted professionals within their community. Therefore, there needs to be a community response.

The sex trade is not glamorous and it is not largely made up of 29 year old fitness instructors who utilize their office to make extra money on the side via prostitution. But I’ve told you all this before. I just hope Maine is listening.