Feb 06
Her eye on the news
‘I just froze’

Nobel laureate and former Costa Rica president Óscar Arias Sánchez, 78, has been accused of sexually assaulting a psychiatrist and nuclear disarmament activist.

Arias was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for having brokered a plan to end civil wars in Central America. He is still regarded as Costa Rica’s most powerful statesman,having led the country twice and where he continues to promote peace and democracy.

Dr. Alexandra Arce von Herold, 34, filed a criminal complaint with federal prosecutors on Monday over an incident four years ago at Arias’ home in which he allegedly groped her breasts, reached beneath her skirt and penetrated her with his fingers during what was supposed to be a meeting to discuss plans for nuclear disarmament.

“I just froze, and I didn’t know what to do,” said Arce, a psychiatrist at a state hospital in San José. “I was so much in shock. That had never happened to me before.” The only thing she could think to do, she recalled, was to cry out, “You’re married,” before rapidly fleeing the home.

In wake of the incident, she immediately spoke to a member of congress and her boyfriend about what had transpired — both of whom have corroborated her account. Arce said she told her family and several other people in the nuclear disarmament movement about the assault, but that she decided not to speak out until now due to risk of reprisal and fear it would harm her work for nuclear disarmament. Witnessing the #MeToo movement, and in particular the testimony of young gymnasts at the trial of serial abuser and former U.S. Olympics team doctor Larry Nassar, she said, had given her the courage to come forward.

“All the other women, that did, that helped me. So I thought maybe, maybe, I can help other people too,” said Arce, explaining that she was concerned that Arias had targeted other young activists. “It’s the right thing to do, even if it destroys me.”

Arias has denied the accusations against him.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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It's complicated

Ivanka Trump has hit back at a controversial new art installation in Washington D.C. that features a lookalike of the first daughter pushing a vacuum cleaner while spectators “throw crumbs on to the carpet, watching as Ivanka elegantly vacuums up the mess, her smile never wavering.”

The art piece, ‘Ivanka Vacuuming’ by Jennifer Rubell, seeks to examine Ivanka’s symbolic potency as a “contemporary feminine icon” and as “a figure whose public persona incorporates an almost comically wide range of feminine identities — daughter, wife, mother, sister, model, working woman, blonde.” Throwing bread crumbs for her to to vacuum, the text description reads, is “surprisingly pleasurable.”

Ivanka, unsurprisingly, was unamused by the avant garde installation.

“Women can choose to knock each other down or build each other up. I choose the latter,” she tweeted in response to a story about the piece.

Rubell responded, also via Twitter: “Ivanka, I would encourage you to see the piece and form your own direct response. I would be happy to arrange for you to do it alone with none of the media circus that has formed around it. Not knocking anyone down. Exploring complicated subjects we all care about.”

Ivanka’s brothers, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, went further with their criticism.

“Sad, but not surprising to watch self professed ‘feminists’ launching sexist attacks against Ivanka Trump,” wrote Trump Jr. on Twitter. “In their crazed world, sexism is OK if hurts their political enemies.”

Ivanka, Eric Trump told Fox News, had “done more for women than probably anybody in Washington D.C.”

But according to Rubell, the piece was deliberately intended to be problematic in order to make audience members think about their own contradictory feelings about what Ivanka represents.

“Here is what’s complicated: we enjoy throwing the crumbs for Ivanka to vacuum. That is the icky truth at the center of the work. It’s funny, it’s pleasurable, it makes us feel powerful, and we want to do it more,” she said.

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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‘It’s true’

On Tuesday, Pope Francis publicly acknowledged for the first time that Catholic priests and bishops had sexually abused nuns, in a break from the culture of silence and secrecy that has allowed abuses by the clergy to long go unchecked. Speaking aboard the papal plane, Francis was asked about an article published in Vatican magazine last week that detailed how nuns worldwide were forced into abortions or into giving birth to the children of priests.

“It’s true,” said Francis simply. “There are priests and bishops who have done that … Should more be done? Yes. Do we have the will? Yes. But it is a path that we have already begun.”

For some, the admission was an insufficient response to a long-running tragedy. “I’m really angered by the words of the pope just now,” Mary Dispenza told the New York Times on Tuesday. Dispenza is a former nun who works with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a victims’ advocacy group.

“I am angered by the Pope not standing up and really speaking out about the tragedy, and actions he will take,” she said.

While the church’s longstanding efforts to cover up the behavior of priests and other clergy who sexually abuse children has finally managed to become a point of some discussion in the Vatican in recent years, until Tuesday the upper echelons of Vatican leadership had refused to even acknowledge that nuns too were subject to rape, harassment, and other forms of abuse. The rampant and allegedly systemic nature of the abuse, however, has become harder and harder for the church to ignore. Just last month, the Vatican’s top official in charge of handling sexual abuse allegations, Rev. Hermann Geissler, resigned after being accused of sexually propositioning a former nun during confession. Geissler has denied the accusation.

According to Women Church World, the outsized power given to priests leaves nuns with little recourse when faced with inappropriate behavior or sexual advances. That is backed by countless disturbing accounts of abuse and subsequent coverups. As far back as the 1990s, Sister Maura O’Donohue reported a case in Malawi where 30 nuns in one congregation were impregnated by their priests, only for the nuns to face replacement after daring to come forward to the archbishop. An Indian nun’s decision to speak out about suffering rape at the hands of the Bishop presiding over her own religious order last summer led many other nuns to admit that they too had suffered abuse, but had been too afraid of retaliation by the church and their community to come forward.

Speaking at a recent conference in Pakistan, Sister Rose Pacatte of Los Angeles told her sisters not to “report to a bishop or priest as the first step” during a presentation on how to prevent sexual abuse.

“They may be the abusers or may protect them,” she warned.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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'A better America'

Stacey Abrams made history on Tuesday night, becoming the first black woman to give the official Democratic rebuttal to a State of the Union address.

Speaking for around 10 minutes following President Donald Trump’s speech to the House, the Georgia State House Minority Leader and former gubernatorial candidate spoke about the importance of fighting voter repression, efforts in her home state to overhaul the criminal justice system, and strongly criticized the federal government shutdown — calling it a “stunt” by Trump.

“The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people — but our values,” Abrams said.

The partial shutdown was the longest in U.S. history, spanning 35 days.

Also weighing in on Republican positions on immigration, health care and the economy, Abrams signposted all the hot-button issues likely to shape the 2020 election.

Challenging the Republicans to address the vexed issue of gun control, Abrams urged reform, saying “This White House responds timidly while first-graders practice active-shooter drills.”

Abrams also brought a personal touch to her speech, invoking her family history and values, and the ‘uncommon grace of community,’ which sees friends and neighbors pulling together for a better nation, and making a plea for bipartisanship to solve the nation’s crises.

“We may come from different sides of the political aisle; but, our joint commitment to the ideals of this nation cannot be negotiable,” she said.

Watch Stacey Abrams deliver the rebuttal to the 2019 State of the Union below:

Read more at The Washington Post and the full text of Abram’s response here.


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In the game

A very creative Girl Scout has managed to boost her annual cookie drive beyond her wildest dreams, with a little help from entertainer Cardi B.

On Monday night, the rapper tweeted a video of the Girl Scout — identified by NBC News affiliate NBC 12 simply as Kiki P — singing a remix of Cardi B’s hit song ‘Money,’ with the comment “I want all the cookieshhh.”

Kiki’s modified lyrics include a list of the cookies available, and her troop’s need for the money, as well as her credentials as an old hand. “Been in this game since 2014,” she raps. “Selling them cookies is my thing.”

Since it was first tweeted out by the Girl Scouts of the United States of America official Twitter account, the video has been viewed more than 2.6 million times.

Read the full story at NBC News.


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TIME has won the 2018 Cover of the Year award from the American Society of Magazine Editors for its portrayal of Christine Blasey Ford.

The October 15, 2018, cover, ‘Her Lasting Impact,’ was illustrated by San Francisco-based artist John Mavroudis. The portrait uses words and phrases from Ford’s testimony during the Senate hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

It’s wonderful that artist John Mavroudis’ typographic portrait of Christine Blasey Ford’s dramatic testimony, which captures the impact and significance of her voice, can be recognized in this way,” said TIME’s Creative Director D.W. Pine.

Interviewed about the cover art in October, Mavroudis told TIME how he decided to place the hand-lettered words and phrases. “The memory quotes would be attached to her forehead area, and the quotes about wanting to help I placed on her hand. The hand could be seen as welcoming, but also deflecting,” he said.

Following the tumultuous and controversial confirmation hearings, Blasey Ford said that was glad to have fulfilled her “civic duty” by coming forward to accuse the judge of sexually assaulting her — even if the experience was “terrifying” and led to serious repercussions for herself and her family.

“Having done so, I am in awe of the many women and men who have written me to share similar life experiences, and now have bravely shared their experience with friends and family, many for the first time. I send you my heartfelt love and support.”

Read the full story at TIME.


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An investigation led by a cross-panel of British MPs has found that Saudi Arabia is torturing women’s rights activists imprisoned last spring in a purge held shortly before the country lifted its ban on women driving cars. The panel’s report said that at least eight of the imprisoned activists had endured cruel and inhumane treatment — including solitary confinement, assault, sexual harassment, and sleep deprivation. Many of the women, the report added, were likely to suffer long-term health consequences unless granted emergency access to medical assistance.

“When I heard of the arrests, I was, like many people, shocked that it had happened at all,” said panel member MP Layla Moran. “The torture, in particular allegations of sexual harassment and threats of rape, are inexcusable.”

“Denied proper access to medical care, legal advice or visits from their families, their solitary confinement and mistreatment are severe enough to meet the international definition of torture,” added fellow panelist MP Crispin Blunt. “Saudi Arabia stands on the brink. It is not too late to alter course and avert the spiral downwards to catastrophe that the detention of these activists represents.”

More than a dozen women’s rights activists were imprisoned during a crackdown last May — many of them prominent campaigners for women’s right to drive. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have previously alleged that all the imprisoned activists were denied access to lawyers, and that at least three were tortured and sexually assaulted. Saudi Arabia has denied allegations that the women are being tortured, and has publicly justified the detentions by claiming the activists were ‘traitors’ being paid to destabilize the country by foreign governments.

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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