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Los Angeles County officials should move urgently to test a backlog of more than 12,000 rape kits - the physical evidence collected after a sexual assault - to ensure justice for rape victims, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 68-page report, "Testing Justice: The Rape Kit Backlog in Los Angeles City and County," reveals that the backlog of untested rape kits in Los Angeles County is larger and more widespread than previously reported. Through dozens of interviews with police officers, public officials, criminalists, rape treatment providers, and rape victims, the report documents the devastating effects of the backlog on victims of sexual abuse.
"Women who are raped have a right to expect police to do all they can to thoroughly investigate their case, but in LA they often feel betrayed to learn that their rape kits are never even tested," said Sarah Tofte, researcher with Human Rights Watch's US program and author of the report. "And in some cases, failure to test means that a rapist who could have been arrested will remain free."
Women who report being raped are asked to undergo a lengthy, extensive examination to collect DNA and other physical evidence that might identify their attacker, corroborate testimony about the assault, or connect their case to other rape crime scene evidence. The resulting rape kit is then booked into police evidence. However, although rape victims may believe it is automatically tested, that is often not the case in Los Angeles County. Rape treatment providers told Human Rights Watch that victims assumed silence from the officers investigating their case simply meant no evidence was found, or that there was no DNA match.
But Human Rights Watch analyzed data from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, and Los Angeles County's 47 independent police departments, and found that as of March 1, 2009, there were at least 12,669 untested rape kits sitting in storage facilities. In those cases, officers never sent the kits on for forensic testing.
Of these 12,669 untested kits, at least 1,218 are from unsolved cases in which the attacker was a stranger to the victim. And 499 kits are attached to cases past the 10-year statute of limitations for rape in California, making it impossible to prosecute the alleged assailants even if they were to be identified. Under California law, if those 499 kits had been opened within two years of the attack, the statute would no longer apply. Thousands more rape kits were destroyed untested.
The backlog grew even as the Police and Sheriff's Departments received millions of federal dollars from the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant, a program the US Congress created to address rape kit backlogs, the effect of which is blunted by the fact that grantees can use the money to test any kind of DNA backlog.
Human Rights Watch's report also contains previously unpublished data on the extent of the rape kit backlog in the 47 cities in Los Angeles County that have independent police departments. For example, records obtained by Human Rights Watch show that the City of Long Beach booked 1,911 rape kits into evidence in the past 15 years. Of those, 51 were sent to the crime lab, an estimated 780 untested kits were destroyed, and 1,072 currently sit untested in their police storage facility. (A chart of data from the 47 cities is available in chapter VI of the report.)
Backlogs of rape kits exist at police stations and crime labs throughout the United States, but nowhere is the problem known to be more acute than Los Angeles. The accumulation of rape kits in Los Angeles County is due to a combination of police discretion regarding which rape kits get tested; a lack of financial commitment to testing; and the length of time it took officials to acknowledge the nature and extent of the problem, Human Rights Watch said.
"Failing to test rape kits denies justice to women who've suffered sexual violence," said Tofte. "If officials had spent federal money to test more kits, they might have prevented future rapes and allowed for prosecution in cases that are now beyond the statute of limitations."
The backlog can have tragic results. In one case documented in the report, in the time it took police to test one woman's rape kit, the alleged perpetrator had attacked at least two other victims, including a child.
Law enforcement officials told Human Rights Watch they sometimes delayed submitting a kit for testing because they did not believe a crime had occurred. Officials also said they tested every kit in which the attacker was a stranger to the victim, but the subsequent backlog count showed this not to be the case. Testing the rape kits can do more than isolate an unknown attacker's DNA: it can connect evidence from different crime scenes and it can exonerate innocent suspects.
"The Police and Sheriff's Departments have agreed to test all rape kits now in the backlog and all those collected in the future," Tofte said. "Now officials need to enforce this policy as part of a wider reform of the way rape is investigated."
The US has specific obligations under international human rights law that require reasonable steps be taken to secure essential forensic evidence from incidents of sexual violence. In order to meet these obligations and eliminate their backlogs, Human Rights Watch called upon the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department to:
Human Rights Watch also called on the Mayor of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Council, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to make funding for the testing of rape kits a priority in their 2009-2010 budgets.
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"President Biden and the Democratic Party should know the passage of this negotiation is the type of harmful decision that makes our generation feel disillusioned and defeated," said the Sunrise Movement's leader.
As the U.S. House of Representatives prepared to vote on President Joe Biden's debt limit deal with GOP negotiators Wednesday evening, the youth-led Sunrise Movement warned Democrats that the so-called Fiscal Responsibility Act could have a major impact on the 2024 elections.
"When we're knocking on doors and on college campuses, we constantly hear young people in our generation feel like the government doesn't work for them," said Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash in a statement. "This debt ceiling deal tells these young people that the U.S. will keep polluting our air and water by approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline, that our government will make life harder for working people, and that our system values billionaires over students."
"Democrats must stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline and achieve their climate goals if they want to energize Gen Z to get out and vote in 2024."
While the proposal would suspend the debt ceiling until 2025, in addition to greenlighting the contested gas pipeline, it would freeze nonmilitary spending, impose new work requirements for federal aid like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), resume student loan repayments, controversially reform permitting for energy projects, and repeal some funding intended to help the Internal Revenue Service crack down on rich tax cheats.
"President Biden and the Democratic Party should know the passage of this negotiation is the type of harmful decision that makes our generation feel disillusioned and defeated about the state of our politics," Prakash warned Wednesday.
"Building new fossil fuel infrastructure right after the approval of the Willow project is politically and morally dangerous, but it's not too late to fix this," the climate activist continued, referring to ConocoPhillips' oil development in Alaska. "Democrats must stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline and achieve their climate goals if they want to energize Gen Z to get out and vote in 2024."
\u201cThe GOP doesn\u2019t have the votes they need to pass this deal. If Democrats hold the line, we can stop it.\n\nTell Dems to vote for a clean debt ceiling deal \u27a1\ufe0f https://t.co/PmR7HGH6F1\u201d— Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05 (@Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05) 1685464612
Last year, as Common Dreamsreported at the time, young voters played a key role in preventing a "red wave" that political pollsters and pundits anticipated based on previous midterm elections, helping Democrats secure major congressional and gubernatorial victories as well as advancing a variety of progressive ballot measures.
Biden is seeking reelection next year and former President Donald Trump is leading polls for the GOP primary, followed at a distance by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. There will also be fierce battles for both chambers of Congress—currently, the fractured Republican Party holds a slim House majority, and Democrats control the Senate but lack enough votes to defeat filibusters.
Since Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) finalized their deal over the weekend—after Republicans refused to vote on a clean debt ceiling hike, despite U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's warnings of an economically catastrophic default by June 5—a growing number of progressive lawmakers have come out against the White House's compromise.
As Common Dreams reported earlier Wednesday, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) decried the GOP's "reckless hostage-taking" and highlighted that "House Republicans raised the debt ceiling with no preconditions three times under the Trump administration."
Other House progressives who have made their opposition to the Fiscal Responsibility Act clear include Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC).
"Tonight I'll be voting NO on Republicans' hostage bill that maliciously weaponized the debt limit. I came to Congress to stand up for our NY-16 community, kids, and families, but this austerity bill will only end up hurting the people I came here to fight for," Bowman said. "This bill will make the poor poorer, hungrier, and sicker, while further enriching the rich through the prison, fossil fuel, and military-industrial complex."
\u201c"...I cannot, in good conscience, vote for a bill that makes it easier for fossil fuel companies to pollute and destroy the planet by fast-tracking the disastrous Mountain Valley Pipeline."\n\nThank you for standing up for our generation, @SenSanders.\u201d— Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05 (@Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05) 1685562682
After U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) came out against the bill on Wednesday, other progressives in the upper chamber joined him—including Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who tweeted that "I will not support a deal to fast-track dirty fossil fuel projects at the expense of environmental justice. I will not give polluters a Get Out of Jail Free card. I will vote NO on the default deal."
"Republicans racked up trillions in debt under Trump and would now rather deprive struggling families of food and financial security than ask the wealthy to pay their fair share in taxes," Markey added, as Republican lawmakers plan to unveil a tax proposal that would further serve rich individuals and corporations.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) also came out against the bill. Along with detailing his critiques of several provisions in a lengthy statement, he warned that "yielding to this blackmail only guarantees that Republicans will use the debt limit to hold America hostage time and time again."
"Today looks like it might be the start of a new chapter in Amazon's history," one organizer of the nationwide protest remarked optimistically.
More than 1,000 Amazon corporate workers and allies rallied outside the e-commerce giant's Seattle headquarters on Wednesday to protest the company's return-to-work policy and what they called its failure to fulfill its climate pledge.
Sign and chant slogans during the Seattle lunchtime rally—which was organized by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice and Amazon's Remote Advocacy group—included "Amazon: Strive Harder," "Stop Greenwashing," and "Hell No, RTO,"—a rebuke of a mandate from Amazon CEO Andy Jassy to return to the office at least three days per week.
"Morale is the lowest I've seen since I've been working here," one Seattle-based employee who did not want to be named and has worked for the company since 2020 told Wired.
This year, Amazon terminated 27,000 workers, layoffs that mirrored cost-cutting sackings at other tech companies that overhired during the Covid-19 pandemic.
\u201cHundreds of corporate employees at the #Amazon walkout underway at the Spheres in South Lake Union. Workers calling out leadership for the return-to-office mandate and failure to reduce carbon footprint\u201d— Jackie Kent (@Jackie Kent) 1685560576
At least hundreds of other Amazon corporate employees and their supporters took part in similar demonstrations outside company offices around the nation on Wednesday, according to reports.
"Today looks like it might be the start of a new chapter in Amazon's history, when tech workers coming out of the pandemic stood up and said, 'We still want a say in this company and the direction of this company,'" Eliza Pan, a former Amazon corporate employee and a co-founder of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, toldThe Associated Press.
\u201cThanks to everyone who showed up to make #AmazonWalkout a success!\u201d— Amazon Employees For Climate Justice (@Amazon Employees For Climate Justice) 1685559893
Amazon spokesperson Brad Glasser told Wired that "we're always listening and will continue to do so, but we're happy with how the first month of having more people back in the office has been."
"There's more energy, collaboration, and connections happening, and we've heard this from lots of employees and the businesses that surround our offices," he added.
However, Church Hindley, an Amazon quality assurance engineer, told the AP that working from home has improved his health and quality of life.
"I'm not suited for in-office work," Hindley said. "I deal with depression and anxiety, and I was able to get off my anxiety medication and start living my life."
\u201cMessages in the crowd at the Amazon walkout in Seattle.\u201d— Kurt Schlosser (@Kurt Schlosser) 1685563537
Pamela Hayter, an Amazon project manager, started the "Remote Advocacy" internal Slack channel, which now has 33,000 members.
During the Seattle rally, Hayter slammed the return-to-office mandate, saying, "I cannot believe that a company in this day and age, a company that claims to be an innovative leader in its space, would do that to one of its most precious resources—its employees."
"Total employment in the nationwide U.S. energy sector could double or even triple by 2050 to meet the demand for wind turbines, solar panels, and transmission lines," according to a new study.
Achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by mid-century would lead to a net increase in energy-related employment nationwide, and Republican-voting states whose leaders have done the most to disparage climate action would see the largest growth in green jobs.
That's according to research published in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy. The new study, summarized Tuesday by Carbon Brief, undercuts the old right-wing canard that environmentally friendly policies are inherently bad for workers.
Four academics led by Dartmouth College engineering professor Erin Mayfield found that shifting to a net-zero economy could create millions of jobs in low-carbon sectors—enough to "offset" losses in the declining fossil fuel industry, not only in the aggregate but also in most dirty energy-producing states, which tend to be GOP strongholds.
"Total employment in the nationwide U.S. energy sector could double or even triple by 2050 to meet the demand for wind turbines, solar panels, and transmission lines," Carbon Brief reported. Such growth in clean power generation and dissemination "would outweigh losses in most of the country's fossil fuel-rich regions, as oil, coal, and gas operations close down."
The study adds to mounting evidence that so-called "red" states now dominated by Republicans and fossil fuel interests—including particularly sunny and windy ones like Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming—stand to reap the biggest rewards from the green industrial policy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act passed by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Joe Biden last year.
At the same time, the authors acknowledge that some GOP-controlled dirty energy-producing states, such as North Dakota, are likely to see net decreases in energy sector employment, and they stress that "many communities will still require help to ensure a 'just transition' away from fossil fuels," as Carbon Brief noted.
In their paper, Mayfield and her three co-authors—Jesse Jenkins, Eric Larson, and Chris Greig, all of whom work at Princeton University—estimate how energy-related employment in the U.S. would change depending on different emission reduction contexts.
To simulate "labor market pathways of large-scale, low-carbon energy-supply infrastructure development," the team developed the Decarbonization Employment and Energy Systems (DEERS) model, which combines myriad economic and energy data, and then applied it to four alternative scenarios from the 2021 Net-Zero America report they were all involved in writing.
The transition scenarios, which assume varying levels of electrification and renewable energy supply, are as follows:
The authors expect overall energy sector employment to climb in all four scenarios, although net job gains are limited under E+ RE- conditions in which the deployment of renewables is constrained.
"We find that a net-zero transition supports an annual average of approximately 3 million direct energy jobs or $200 billion in wages during the first decade, and approximately 4-8 million direct energy jobs or $200-500 billion during the 2040s," they wrote. "The modeled supply-side energy workforce represents 1.5% of the total U.S. labor force in 2020, increasing to 2.5-5% by mid-century."
As Carbon Brief reported: "The number of energy-related jobs roughly doubles in both the 'high electrification' (E+) and 'less-high electrification' (E-) scenarios, which focus on the extent to which transport and buildings are electrified by 2050. The largest growth is seen in the E + RE+ scenario, which features high electrification and a 100% renewable power system by 2050."
"Notably, the research finds that many fossil fuel jobs would have been lost even in the absence of new climate policy," the outlet noted. "It suggests there would be a drop of one-third by 2050, as coal and gas are driven out of the market by cheaper wind and solar."
According to Mayfield and her colleagues, "In most states, job losses in declining fossil fuel sectors are offset by an increasing number of energy jobs in low-carbon sectors."
Carbon Brief observed that "this is particularly evident in Republican-voting states, which have larger energy workforces. In the E+ scenario, these states would lose around 700,000 fossil fuel jobs but gain 1.7 million low-carbon energy jobs between 2025 and 2050."
The outlet created a chart to visualize the paper's projection of rising energy-related employment under the E+ scenario in "red" states that voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020 and "blue" states that backed Biden.
In their paper, Mayfield and her colleagues cite the example of Texas, a GOP stronghold that is simultaneously the nation's top fossil fuel-producing state and its top generator of electricity from wind and solar.
As Carbon Brief pointed out:
By 2025 in the E+ scenario, around 480,000 of the state's 660,000-strong energy workforce are employed in the fossil fuel sector, more than 72% of the total. Within 25 years, many of these jobs would be lost as the number of fossil fuel employees falls to 123,000.
Yet the state would still see a big uptick in energy sector employment by 2050. The modeling suggests Texas would have around 778,000 energy jobs in 2050, with around 84% employed in low-carbon industries.
Despite this, Inside Climate News reported last month that Texas Republicans recently introduced legislation "intended to punish renewable energy and boost fossil fuels, including a measure that would increase the amount of gas-fired electricity generated by the state by upwards of 10 gigawatts and one that would limit the development of renewable energy in the state based on how much natural gas generation is also being built."
For decades, Republicans have couched their opposition to climate policies in the language of protecting the jobs of fossil fuel workers. In many cases, GOP candidates perceived to be defending the interests of dirty energy-producing communities have been rewarded by voters in those localities.
While Trump's stated support for coal workers benefited him politically in 2016, employment in the sector still fell by a quarter during his reign. Biden, by contrast, has made clear that "creating jobs and tackling climate change go hand in hand."
Evidence is growing that the clean energy transition is poised to be a major job-creator rather than a job-killer as suggested by right-wing lawmakers.
It remains to be seen whether the political allegiances of fossil fuel workers—who have previously expressed interest in moving into the green sector—will change to reflect the fact that Democrats, not Republicans, are most aggressively fighting to boost energy sector employment.
Of course, there are other important factors to consider in addition to the quantity of low-carbon jobs created, as the authors of the paper acknowledge. The quality of green sector work—whether it is unionized and high-paying, for instance, or precarious and poorly remunerated—will play a large role in determining public support for the shift to renewables.