Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We Should Not Need A Videotape To Be Repulsed By Domestic Violence

So, exactly what did you think domestic violence looked like?

In the wake of TMZ’s release of the elevator video recording of Ray Rice’s vicious beating of his now wife, Janay Palmer, everyone has something to say.  Now we are horrified.  Now the team is outraged because, as Coach John Harbaugh put it, the videotape “changed things.”  Why?

I think I know the answer.  It changed things because now we cannot hide.  Now, we cannot blame the victim as the Ravens suggested in an early tweet talking about how Ms. Palmer “regrets the role she played” in the incident. (Was that the role her face played in receiving Rice’s punch, hitting the wall, or hitting the floor?) Now we cannot whitewash with the sterile label “domestic violence” a 206 pound man punching a woman unconscious, then dragging her body and dropping it face down onto the floor.  It changes things because now we cannot look the other way.  The ugliness and the viciousness of what the words “domestic violence” mean are laid bare and there is no escaping it no matter how hard we try.

And we tried hard.  This is not a situation in which nothing was known prior to yesterday’s release of the video.   It was already known that Rice hit her with such force that she was unconscious.  It was already known he was charged with aggravated assault, not simple assault (although the prosecutor approved a diversion program).  It was already known that there was at least a video of him dragging her unconscious body from the elevator.  But amazingly we as a society generally - the NFL and the Ravens particularly- managed to minimize.

So why are things different now?  Things are different because, after the videotape, society and the NFL are now faced with the ugly truth: that domestic violence is exactly that – violence; and what Ms. Palmer experienced was the violence of a closed fist hitting her head with such force that she immediately was knocked unconscious as her body fell against the wall.  It was the violence and humiliation of being unceremoniously dragged into a hallway with so little dignity that she lay there injured, unresponsive, and humiliated with her skirt pulled above her waist on the floor.

How did this willful ignorance happen? Two decades after the Violence Against Women Act, twelve years after the Catholic Conference of Bishops wrote “Violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form-physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal is sinful; often, it is a crime as well" -  how is it that we are still looking the other way?  The sad truth is that this happens because we do not afford women and children the inherent dignity they deserve.  We even give this victimization a different label, “domestic violence” and treat it differently than what it is: a fist to the face. 

We do not want to face the reality of violence against women and children.  Just think back to the Steubenville high school football players convicted of rape.  This was a case covered up and one that may not have been prosecuted but for the videotapes of both circumstances surrounding the event and the teens discussing it.  Remember the outrage at Penn State?  It was outrage only felt when the testimony of an adult eye witness was released to the public through the grand jury.  Not until the reality of what women and children victims experience behind closed doors is placed front and center are we willing to reluctantly acknowledge what it is.

Some have commented that this  termination is a watershed moment.  Sadly, I am not so optimistic.  Ironically, on the same day that Ray Rice was let go from the Ravens, the NCAA lifted the ban on Penn State’s post season play because “they have made remarkable progress” in their cover up of one of their former coaches molesting children on campus. Remarkable progress for such a serious institutional failure?  This further underscores society’s preference to sweep away not only the victimization, but the institutional willful ignorance as well.  As Joey Galloway questioned, “[w]hen you start to peel back these penalties, what are you saying about the initial crime?”

We simply do not take violence against women and children seriously because we hide from its reality.  We do so because our society simply does not afford victims the inherent human dignity belonging to all people.  Not until we  recognize what this violence is, can we effectively respond and prevent its occurrence by working with victims and offenders. 

Many now are asking whether the NFL knew of this video prior to yesterday. There are, however, more fundamental questions: given what was known, why did we need a videotape to be repulsed?  Why does the existence of a video change things?  But it does.

According to the Domestic Violence Hotline, 3 in 10 women will experience some form of intimate partner violence or stalking.  In the minute it took to read this piece 24 people have been victimized in this way.  Chances are there was no video camera to force us to hold those abusers accountable. 

September 9, 2014 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Thursday, July 31, 2014

More on Embassy to the Holy See Roundtable

Yesterday I blogged about the Roundtable Discussion co-hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Global Freedom Network, and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.  More information has become available about the content of that important meeting which the Embassy described as follows:

[T]he Embassy was proud to co-host with the Global Freedom Network and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences a digital video conference with Luis CdeBaca, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, to discuss this year’s U.S. Department of State's Trafficking in Persons report. Over 40 representatives from the Vatican, Embassies to the Holy See, NGOs, and media outlets were present to learn about the report and talk about how to improve and increase anti-trafficking efforts.


As I mentioned in the earlier post, this meeting exemplifies one of many efforts to bring together different stakeholders to discuss and combat one of the most pressing moral and legal issues of our time.  Of particular interest to MOJ readers may be the comments of Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo.  Among other things, he comments on this interplay between an overwhelming social problem and the potential for defeating it when religions, governments, and the private sector actors find common ground and act:

Because of the human and moral scandal they mean and interests involved, which lead to pessimism and resignation, many international institutions have turned their backs. This is why the 2014 TIP Report is so important, which we can say was especially motivated by President Obama’s visit to Pope Francis, as confirmed one of the opening photos.

We must thus be grateful to Pope Francis and to President Obama and to Secretary of State John Kerry for identifying one of the most important social tragedies of our times and having enough confidence in democratic institutions to instruct them to be responsible to spot human trafficking, engage our communities, and commit to take action. As you know, after our November workshop, we decided to tackle this issue by founding an interreligious partnership called the Global Freedom Network, which you can read more about on our website www.gfn2020.org

* * *

As religious people we can repeat the words of Pope Francis during the canonization of the Mexican St Guadalupe García Zavala, “this is called 'touching the flesh of Christ'. The poor, the abandoned, the sick and the marginalized are the flesh of Christ. And Mother Lupita touched the flesh of Christ and taught us this behaviour: not to feel ashamed, not to fear, not to find 'touching Christ’s flesh' repugnant. Mother Lupita had realized what 'touching Christ’s flesh' actually means”. Pope Francis’ words are a clear response in the light of Jesus Christ’s message to this new form of contemporary slavery, which constitutes an abhorrent violation of the dignity and rights of human beings.


The full text of the Bishop’s remarks, as well as those of U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Ken Hackett and U.S. Ambassador At Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Luis CdeBaca,  can be found here and are definitely worth the read. 

July 31, 2014 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Human Trafficking: Responding to the Pope's Appeal

Today is the first UN World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.  To commemorate the day, the U.K. Ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, has blogged about a roundtable hosted by Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Vatican-based Global Freedom Network (an initiative of Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby) and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.  He has entitled the piece, “Human Trafficking: Responding to the Pope’s Appeal.”  


Teaching, writing, and studying Human Trafficking can be a dark subject matter.  This was underscored for me this summer when I taught my Human Trafficking seminar every day in Catholic University Law School’s Rome Human Rights Program – as opposed to once a week as in a regular semester.  I saw that the material became a bit overwhelming to these young adults in the class when faced with such a volume of information at such a fast pace.  It is often difficult to see anything positive in the field.  Yet, this post struck me for two reasons. 


First, it is a nice reflective piece on concrete ways governments, religious institutions, and private entities can come together to address a complex social issue.  It is no surprise to me that central in this event was the U.S. Ambassador at Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Person, Luis CdeBaca.  He has done an excellent job of recognizing and including in this movement the work of religious organizations and private entities.   


Second, and somewhat unrelated – it struck this Irish woman how amazing it was that a British official was publicly posting a reflection on how we all need to respond to a pope’s appeal for action.  It is not only that one could not have imagined such an act 20 years ago.  One could not underestimate the tension between Catholics and non-Catholic in Britain - less than 7 years ago former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was called a “fool” for converting to Catholicism. 

Yet, today we see unity from across social groups behind this abolitionist movement as reflected in this blog piece.

Therefore, notwithstanding the difficulty in working in this area, there are small rays of hope that great social challenges can be overcome…and Catholic legal and social thought is playing a role.

July 30, 2014 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Friday, July 25, 2014

Are We No Longer Shocked By Victimization?

It has been over 100 days - 102  days to be exact.  102 days since Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 girls and threatened to sell them into sexual slavery.  I worry that in today’s 24-7 news cycle that fact has become “yesterday’s news.” 

As a human trafficking scholar I think a great deal about the parallels between the slavery of today and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. I have considered the role of the bystander in both these systems, trying to imagine how it was possible for people - particularly the bystanders - to justify the ownership of human beings as property.  It is difficult to wrap one’s mind around the concept that it was acceptable and not shocking to abduct, buy, and sell other people.    

And then 100 days pass since these girls were abducted and threatened to be sold and it seems as though this terrible crime is no longer at the forefront of the American consciousness.   It is perhaps no longer shocking.

Three months after the crime, Malala Yousafzai visited Nigeria and met with President Goodluck Jonathan  who claimed he would bring back the girls “as soon as possible.”  Well, apparently “as soon as possible” means right after he finishes spending $1.2 million, not on the rescue effort, but on hiring the American public relations firm, Levick, to improve his image.  It seems to me that such an amount of money may have been better spent actually trying to rescue the girls…rather than paying Americans to explain why the government has not done so.  If that is “as soon as possible” I would hate to see what “when I get around to acknowledging it happened” looks like.

Yet, the outrage is gone.  The shock is gone.  We in the West seem to have largely moved on to other issues.  How can this be?  It may be because on some level we accept the objectification of people…just like bystanders accepted slavery centuries ago. 

Some reject the parallels drawn between human trafficking and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, asserting that there is an important distinction between legally sanctioned slavery and that which is not state  supported.  These events underscore that laws do not the society make.  While it is indeed symbolically important to end laws that sanction slavery or other moral wrongs, it is necessary but not sufficient.  A legal shift is interesting but a social shift is what is required.  And we in the West seem not to have made that shift. 

While I support Pope Francis’ bold call for human trafficking to explicitly be treated as a crime against humanity it will amount to nothing until we as a global society truly value the lives of such victims as though they were our own children…until the shock lasts longer than a week, a month, or 102 days.  Until that day comes the parallel between the bystander in the 1800’s and the rest of us unavoidable. 

July 25, 2014 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Monday, June 30, 2014

Law Professors Impacting the Highest Court

Well, it is a great honor for a lawyer to advocate and win in the Supreme Court once in one’s career.  To win 9-0 is even more impressive.  To win twice in two weeks, well that is something.  That is also exactly what my colleague here at The Catholic University of America, Mark Rienzi, has done with today’s announcement of the Hobby Lobby case.  As was previously blogged on MOJ he argued and won 9-0 in  McCullen v. Coakley and participated in and won Hobby Lobby.  A write up of his two victories are here and here

Not to be outdone, my colleague Robert Destro and recent alumnus, Austin Lipari, also tasted victory in the Supreme Court.  A write up regarding their case, Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, is here.

June 30, 2014 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Friday, June 20, 2014

2014 Trafficking in Persons Report

Yesterday was an important day in the anti-trafficking world; the State Department released its 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. This annual report card on international efforts to combat human trafficking is a product of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). The Report has been a significant resource as well as diplomatic tool to confront both trafficking and failed or weak efforts to address it.

The theme of this year's report is "The Journey from Victim to Survivor." This reflects the recent focus of anti-trafficking movements of victim services and the importance of governments working with NGO's to help victims. I was especially pleased to see this. As I have previously blogged, many Catholic women religious orders have been at the forefront of working with victims. This was recently recognized more publicly by the law enforcement community in an international meeting of law enforcement and religious organizations. Indeed, one chief of police noted that the women religious with whom he partnered were indispensable to their efforts to interface with victims.

Of particular interest to MOJ readers is a discussion within the first 10 pages of the report regarding the dignity of the human person – a bedrock of the Church's position on this issue. This is followed by a rather candid statement about the reality of victim services:

These individuals have often endured horrific physical, psychological, and/or sexual abuse at the hands of their traffickers and others. But victim services that focus on providing support only until individuals are physically well enough to be sent on their way—or put in line for deportation—are insufficient. Those who have been enslaved have endured more than physical harm. They have been robbed of their freedom, including the freedom to make choices about their own lives. Medical care and a few nights in a shelter do not make a victim whole again. Even as the physical wounds are salved and begin healing, a major element of the recovery process is helping victims regain their agency, their dignity, and the confidence to make choices about how to move forward with their lives.

As if to underscore the point, MOJ readers may be pleased to see that on that same page in the TIP report is a photograph of Pope Francis meeting with the President and the following quote from the Holy Father himself: "I exhort the International community to adopt an even more unanimous and effective strategy against human trafficking, so that in every part of the world, men and women may no longer be used as a means to an end."

    I continue to work my way through the Report (all 432 pages of it), but encourage all MOJ readers to review its findings. It is encouraging to see it publicly endorse some of the important work the Holy See is doing in this area. It also provides a challenge to all of us as educators of young lawyers to consider how we can respond to Francis' invitation.

June 20, 2014 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Working With the Vatican Against Modern Slavery

Referencing that he is the first Roman Catholic Secretary of State in 33 years, Secretary Kerry has written an op-ed with the above title in the Boston Globe. In addition to highlighting the joint efforts of United States and the Holy See, Secretary Kerry makes an important observation about human trafficking:

[A]s we dive deeper, we begin to see that modern slavery, like so many other 21st century challenges, doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's interconnected with so many of our other foreign-policy concerns, from environmental sustainability to advancing the lives of women and girls to combating transnational organized crime. Wherever we find poverty and lack of opportunity — wherever the rule of law is weak, where corruption is most ingrained, and where populations can't count on the protection of government and law enforcement — we find not just vulnerability to trafficking, but zones of impunity where traffickers can more easily prey on their victims.

This is a point often missed in media discussions of human trafficking. It is easy to be against human trafficking. Who could not oppose the activity labeled "modern day slavery?" However, it is more challenging for states and stakeholders (including consumers of low priced goods) to acknowledge that trafficking cannot be regarded as a silo that can neatly be cabined off from other activity – some of which is criminal and some of which is not. Combatting human trafficking requires combatting poverty and corruption – two of the more stubborn ills that affect human beings seeking a life of dignity throughout the world.

The comments of Secretary Kerry follow many recent efforts by the Holy See to highlight Human Trafficking. They also underscore the view articulated by the Holy See far earlier and seemingly more frequently than many other stakeholders: that trafficking in persons is a denial of basic human dignity and a primary method of combatting it includes instilling that notion of dignity through more than just words but through economic, immigration, and other social policies.

While the media highlighted Pope Francis's recent speech on human trafficking, less attention was paid to the fact that this was an address to welcome participants to an international conference on human trafficking hosted by the Holy See. This conference focused on the productive partnership between the international law enforcement and religious communities throughout the world. It acknowledged the reality that religious orders and local dioceses have been working with victims for many years (see here, here, and here for examples). It ended with the Santa Marta Commitment by these global police chiefs.

Work such as this is comprehensive and grounded in reality. It is a positive step to see the State Department focusing on the substantive position and work the Holy See is doing as it takes on a leadership role regarding this issue.

April 23, 2014 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Global Freedom Network

I have previously blogged about the important work of many Catholic religious orders in the fight against human trafficking, as well as the leadership of Pope Francis on this issue. On Monday the critical role faith communities play in combatting this scourge was further underscored and advanced with the launching of the Global Freedom Network. Representatives of the Catholic, Anglican, and Muslim world signed the agreement at a Vatican press conference in which they pledged to work together to end human trafficking by 2020.

The Initiative is important on many fronts, and a testament to the potential of faith institutions and individuals who translate faith into action. First, it underscores the importance of faith communities it preventing and combatting human trafficking, as well as their important historical role of working directly with victims – who often come from the most forgotten segments of our society. Second, it acknowledges that human trafficking is a global problem which knows no geographical boundaries. Faith institutions and organizations are one of the few organizational bodies with worldwide reach to members. Therefore, when mobilized, they can effectively act. Finally, the historical accord also is a testament to how one individual, in this case Australian Andrew Forrest, can see an injustice such as human trafficking and respond with faith and action. Forrest, a mining magnate, founded the Walk Free Foundation after encountering children who were the victims of trafficking. His organization is funding this initiative and he is committed to this work.

The Global Freedom Network arose out of an important June 2013 meeting between Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, when the two men looked for ways to pursue concrete cooperation. It also follows an important November 2013 conference hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences which included many of the world's experts on human trafficking. These minds came together and created points of action necessary to successfully defeat this crime.

While the goal of eradication may seem aspirational, the Network has specific concrete objectives on which to work to attain that goal. The Vatican press office reports that, "[p]lanned actions include urging governments to publicly endorse the establishment of the Global Fund to End Slavery and persuading multi-national businesses to commit to eradicating slavery from their supply chains. By mobilizing the world's major faith communities, this new Network hopes to bring an end by 2020 to what Pope Francis has dared to call a crime against humanity."

March 19, 2014 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Thursday, February 13, 2014

MOJ’s Birthday

As I reflect on the significance of a decade of discussion regarding Catholic legal thought, I approach the endeavor from a slightly different perspective than many of the previous posts (most of which are summarized nicely here). Unlike many of my colleagues, I am relatively new to blogging with MOJ (under two years) and do not have the same institutional memory as many of them.

My reflections, therefore, have drawn me toward thinking about those on the outside: the MOJ audience and the manifestation of Catholic legal thought on the front lines.

Regarding the audience, I share Michael's thoughts on the importance of MOJ to the practitioner or the young academic. I graduated from a Catholic law school saddened by the lack of guidance it offered students regarding Catholic legal thought, uniquely Catholic intellectual experiences, or even the interplay of faith and law in this vocation called lawyering. It seemed to me that a career - which, by definition, seeks to help people, businesses, and governments negotiate through some of their most difficult times - would demand training on how to negotiate the moral and personal issues that flow from such a vocation. Therefore, having this forum where legal issues of the day are discussed through a lens of Catholic legal theory fills a gap too often left by secular legal education.

Regarding the front lines – I had a recent experience in which the importance of Catholic legal education became very apparent. Last week I had the opportunity to give a keynote presentation to a group of international lawyers participating in a State Department program regarding "Children in the United States Justice System." The audience was a group of international judges and lawyers from throughout the world who were working in various capacities with victimized and vulnerable women and children. They were from countries as diverse as Finland, Guyana, and Japan. Needless to say it was an impressive group of professionals working on very challenging issues in their courts, trying to protect children, and trying to make systemic changes. The dedication to this important work was apparent as many of them were from countries without the resources of the United States and working under difficult conditions.

Many of them took the time to mention to me during the day that they were graduates from one of their country's Catholic universities. They mentioned it with such pride and suggested that they were offered the information to forge a connection with one another on their shared mission to improve the world. It was no surprise to me that men and women committed to justice and dignity affiliated with a Catholic university or law school. But it was a reminder of how critical it is to keep the dialog alive and vibrant about Catholic legal thought and Catholic principles. The "harvest is plenty, but the laborers are few." (Mt: 9:36-38). I think that this blog helps those of us in legal academia shape some of the laborers, and then helps the laborers sustain themselves while in the field.

February 13, 2014 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Paroline v. United States

Today I had the singular experience of attending oral argument at the Supreme Court. The case was Paroline v. United States. For those unfamiliar with this matter, Paroline addresses the ability of a child pornography victim ("Amy") to obtain restitution from a child pornography possessor consistent with 18 U.S.C. 2259. As was demonstrated by the oral argument, the case has both complex legal issues (outlined here in a brief article co-authored by myself and the trial attorney for Amy, James Marsh) as well as important emotional and justice issues. Although the case poses many important legal questions worthy of discussion, for purposes of MOJ, I will focus on some reflections most relevant to Catholic legal thinking.

When one's legal scholarship focuses on the exploitation of vulnerable people, particularly women and children, the days when one feels positive about the direction of law and policy are, frankly, few and far between. Our new MOJ contributor, Cecelia Klingele recently discussed her observation that those convicted of crime are among those "unseen" in our society. I would add to that list of unseen – and often unheard in courts of law- crime victims. As I point out to my students, the word "victim" does not appear in the Constitution; she is afforded no real procedural protections; no one speaks exclusively for her; and often she is involved in the litigation through no action of her own, at times being further victimized by the process. Indeed Paroline demonstrates this quite poignantly as it is a case wherein the United States – the entity which prosecuted defendant Paroline - has taken a position at odds with (although not completely opposed to) Amy's effort to receive restitution.

However, I felt today represented a good day for victims – a day in which Pope Francis' call for us to "care for the vulnerable of the earth" was heard a little more clearly (Evangelii Gaudium, para. 209). This is not so much because of any expected outcome of the case. Indeed, I do not know where the Justices will come out on the very difficult questions at issue. Rather, two aspects of the day offer some hope that we are closer to the Pope's vision of "restoring the dignity of human life" to all people. (Evangelii Gaudium, para. 75)

The first sign of encouragement was the procedural handling of the case. This case began with one civil attorney answering the call to assist "Amy." Amy is a victim of horrible abuse whose assaults have been circulated extensively in child pornography networks. One attorney, James Marsh, took up her cause several years ago and has worked tirelessly to assist Amy in moving forward with her life. He, Paul Cassell (who argued the case before the Court), Carol Hepburn (who has represented several other victims) are examples for us all on how we as attorneys can utilize our skills to truly help the most vulnerable among us.

Secondly, I saw some hope from the other side of the bench. I previously attended the argument for another child pornography case, United States v. Williams. During that argument I was rather dismayed by some of the questions from the Justices that seemed to indicate that they, like many in the legal community and media, did not understand the victimization associated with being a victim of child pornography. This victimization is unique in that, unlike many other crimes, child pornography is a "crime of perpetuity." That is to say that a victim of child pornography never ceases being victimized. As long as the images exist, she lives with the knowledge that others are observing her assault for their own pleasure and entertainment. She must wonder whether every person she meets, every job interviewer, every neighbor, every teacher has viewed her image. It is a crime like no other. For the Williams case, the Justices did not seem to fully understand that concept. Today, all the Justices' questions reflected a clearer understanding of that reality. I was glad to see that the harm suffered by these men and women is being understood at a greater level.

While this may seem a minor point, as pornography becomes more mainstream in our society, and judges increasingly are affording child pornography offenders lesser sentences, one can begin to question if we will ever reverse the trend of turning our children into commodities. Today reminded me that there is hope, however incremental, that we are moving closer to valuing "the life and dignity of all human persons."

January 22, 2014 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink