Republicans in the West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9-8 to kill a law that would’ve ended child marriage in the state.
Right now the state, and six others, have no minimum age requirement for marriage. The law allows children as young as age 16 to be married off to adults, as long as the children have their parents’ permission. (Anyone younger than 16 requires a judge’s waiver to marry.) However, West Virginia has the highest rate of child marriage in the nation, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center report.
A proposed bill, introduced by Democratic state Delegate Kayla Young, would’ve raised West Virginia’s minimum age for marriage to 18 and above — only 4 other U.S. states.
After her bill’s defeat, Young wrote, “I want to make it very clear that no one spoke against the bill. They just made the clearly pre-determined motions and killed the bill. No one admitted why they think children as young as infants should be legally allowed to be married off.”
I want to make it very clear that no one spoke against the bill. They just made the clearly pre-determined motions and killed the bill. No one admitted why they think children as young as infants should be legally allowed to be married off.
— Kayla Young (@kaylayoungforwv) March 9, 2023
Republican Sen. Mike Stuart defended not raising the minimum marrying age by noting that his own mother had married at age 16. “Six months later, I came along. I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Stuart said, not mentioning the effects the marriage or pregnancy had on his mother’s mental state or well-being.
Republican Del. Jim Butler, who voted against the bill, told Newsweek, “West Virginia is a socially conservative and traditional state, in my observation. Many middle age and elderly people that I know were married when younger than 18 and are still married many years later.”
The Associated Press noted that 86% of underage children who get married are girls, meaning that West Virginia’s laws primarily allow adult men to marry girls who have barely entered high school and aren’t old enough to vote.
Right now, seven states have no minimum age requirement for marriage, according to Unchained at Last, an organization that opposes child marriage. These states include California, Washington, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.
Kansas allows children to marry at the age of 15. All other U.S. states set the ages for marriage at 16 and above.
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Pentagon Blocks Evidence of Russia’s War Crimes from International Criminal Court
The Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, is blocking the administration of President Joe Biden (D) from sharing evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine, collected by U.S. intelligence agencies, with the International Criminal Court (ICC), the tribunal that prosecutes heinous human rights violations, The New York Times has reported.
The Pentagon is doing this because U.S. military leaders fear that it might help the ICC and other nations prosecute the U.S. in the future over its own past war crimes.
The evidence being withheld reportedly includes proof that Russian officials deliberately targeted civilian dwellings and infrastructure while also kidnapping thousands of Ukrainian children from occupied territories, the Times wrote.
In December 2022, Congress changed rules to enable the U.S. to assist the ICC’s investigations. But even though the rule changes passed on a large bipartisan vote, the Pentagon opposed the rule change and is “now trying to undermine the letter and spirit of the law,” according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
In 2000, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton originally signed the Rome Statute that created the ICC. But the United States’ involvement wasn’t ratified by the Senate. In 2002, then-U.S. President George W. Bush withdrew the U.S. from ICC, primarily over concerns that the U.S. could be prosecuted for war crimes after its then-coming 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The U.S. has acknowledged the ICC’s existence and even assisted with its investigation against African warlords under the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama. However, in 2017, when the ICC tried to investigate the U.S. torture of detainees during Bush’s so-called “War on Terror,” then-President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on ICC personnel and his Secretary of State denounced the ICC as “immoral.”
Biden revoked Trump’s sanctions, but the U.S. remained prohibited from funding and issuing other sorts of aid to the court. The December 2022 legislative vote changed it so that the U.S. could help the ICC investigate Russian war crimes.
However, the Pentagon has said that the U.S. shouldn’t help the ICC investigate Russia, because Russia (like the U.S.) also withdrew its participation from the ICC and shouldn’t be subject to its investigations. If Russia is, and the U.S. assists, then it also means that the ICC could one day investigate the United States, the Pentagon reasons, according to unnamed sources cited by the Times.
Russia has allegedly committed more than 65,000 war crimes in Ukraine, according to watchdog groups.
The progressive news site Common Dreams noted that author and war correspondent Megan K. Stack wrote on Twitter, that the Pentagon and U.S. approach to the ICC can be summed up thus: “Basically, [the U.S.] want others punished, but not ourselves.”
A year of war in Ukraine. A year of Russian forces' atrocities. A year of civilian suffering.
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) February 24, 2023
Louisiana Adults Must Now Show Drivers’ Licenses to Access Porn Online
Louisiana residents who want to access adult web content and pornography online must now enter information from a valid driver’s license or state ID into a program called LA Wallet in order to prove they are 18 or older, according to Mashable.
This is thanks to House Bill 142, a new law that went into effect on January 1. The law says that any commercial website that contains 33.3 percent or more pornographic material must “perform reasonable age verification methods to verify the age of individuals attempting to access the material.”
While porn websites claim that they won’t collect any users’ personal information while conducting the age check, the bill requiring the check is a disturbing view of similar legislation to come.
“Pornography is creating a public health crisis and having a corroding influence on minors,” the bill states, blaming adult content for “the hypersexualization of teens and prepubescent children… low self-esteem, body image disorders, an increase in problematic sexual activity at younger ages, and increased desire among adolescents to engage in risky sexual behavior.”
“Pornography may also impact brain development and functioning, contribute to emotional and medical illnesses, shape deviant sexual arousal, and lead to difficulty in forming or maintaining positive, intimate relationships, as well as promoting problematic or harmful sexual behaviors and addiction,” the bill states.
The bill was introduced by anti-LGBTQ+ state Rep. Laurie Schlegel, a woman who has introduced legislation banning transgender youth from playing on school sports teams matching their gender identity. She also opposed legislation that would have banned so-called conversion therapy, a widely disavowed form of psychological torture that purports to change people’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
Louisiana’s law bears resemblance to similar legislation introduced last month by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). Lee’s bill would essentially criminalize any web users who view or share “obscene” images online.
While Lee’s bill has little chance of clearing the Democratically-controlled Senate, it’s just one of numerous bills seeking to restrict adult content and online sex work in the name of protecting children from porn and “sex trafficking.”
Police Are Convicting People for Murder Based on “Guilty Sounding” 911 Calls
Prosecutors are imprisoning people using their 911 emergency calls as evidence thanks to junk science that claims to detect murderers through their speech patterns.
Even scarier: Prosecutors continue to rely on this method even though there’s no scientific evidence backing it up, ProPublica reports.
This method has been pushed by Tracy Harpster, a deputy police chief from suburban Dayton, Ohio who has “no scientific background and next to no previous homicide investigation experience,” the publication wrote.
Harpster claims his training can teach 911 phone operators, investigators, and prosecutors how to detect if the caller is a murderer. His methods have been used in court cases to wrongly convict innocent people.
“I documented more than 100 cases in 26 states where Harpster’s methods played a pivotal role in arrests, prosecutions and convictions — likely a fraction of the actual figure,” investigative reporter Brett Murphy wrote. Some of these convictions have been overturned.
Harpster based his method on research he did for his graduate thesis in criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati. He analyzed 100 recordings of 911 calls, half of which were made by callers who were later found guilty of a crime, and listened for speech patterns that he thought indicated guilt.
Guilt, Harpster says, can be induced by people repeating “extraneous information,” being too polite, interrupting one’s self, or being confusing.
“Almost two-thirds of the calls came from Ohio and two-thirds of the callers were white,” the reporter noted. “Experts told me that’s nowhere near enough data to draw conclusions from because that sample fails to account for who a 911 caller is and how that might affect the way they speak: their race, upbringing, geography, dialect, education.”
The FBI promoted his research to police departments around the nation without labeling it as “exploratory,” meaning that it needed further inquiry.
Harpster and the FBI continued to push his method for 12 years until a 2020 study from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit finally found that his methods resulted in “inconsistent” outcomes. The unit recommended against using his methods. A fall 2022 study by a separate group in the same FBI unit and three other studies from Villanova and James Madison universities have all found his methods to be unreliable, Murphy reported.
Nonetheless, his methods have been used to wrongly convict numerous people of murder, even when the victims died accidentally or through suicide. Some of these non-murderers have had their convictions overturned, but some become suicidal and experience PTSD after having their lives ruined.
Harpster offers his training to investigators and prosecutors who now push his methods in trials. Investigators, prosecutors, judges, and jury members increasingly consider his methods as “expert testimony” and meeting “law enforcement standards,” despite having no basis in peer-reviewed scientific research. Public defenders who may have never heard of Harpster’s technique can be caught unaware and find themselves unable to disprove its official-sounding methods, especially when police officers testify about its usefulness in getting convictions.
“[Harpster] claims that 1 in 3 people who call 911 to report a death are actually murderers,” Murphy wrote. “No law enforcement officials in the records I’ve seen have questioned this figure, and many departments repeat it when promoting the training internally.”
Harpster’s Facebook page expresses openly “misogynistic, transphobic, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant views” including posts flagged as false information and another post calling peaceful protesters “filthy scum,” Murphy reported.
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