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California Lawmakers Pass 'Affirmative Consent' Sexual Assault Bill

by Eyder Peralta
Aug 29, 2014

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California is one step closer to becoming the first state to require colleges and universities "to adopt a standard of unambiguous consent among students engaging in sexual activity," The Los Angeles Times reports.

The California Senate gave the bill unanimous approval on Thursday, and it is now headed to the governor's office.

The Times adds:

"Along with a comprehensive prevention program, colleges would be required to help victims of sexual assault seek medical care, counseling, legal assistance and other services.

"Students engaging in sexual activity would first need 'affirmative consent' from both parties — a clear threshold that specifically could not include a person's silence, a lack of resistance or consent given while intoxicated."

As Reuters reports, the bill comes amid increasing national pressure for universities and colleges to curb sexual assault on campus.

As we've reported, back in May, the Department of Education said 55 colleges and universities nationwide were under investigation because of their handling of sexual abuse claims.

Reuters adds:

"The White House has declared sex crimes to be 'epidemic' on U.S. college campuses, with one in five students falling victim to sex assault during their college years.

"Universities in California and beyond have already taken steps, including seeking to delineate whether consent has been given beyond "no means no".

"Harvard University said last month it had created an office to investigate all claims of sexual harassment or sex assault, and that it would lower its evidentiary standard of proof in weighing the cases."

The California bill has been dubbed "yes-means-yes," which means the burden is on both people to seek consent, not for one party to expect a no. The bill also calls for affirmative consent to be ongoing throughout the sexual activity.

Some critics have said the bill goes too far or that it's confusing. The Long Beach Press Telegram reports:

"A pair of friends at Cal State Long Beach said the bill seemed well-intentioned, but questioned how practical it is when it comes to ensuring consent throughout sex with their partners.

"'I feel like their hearts are in the right place, but the implementation is a little too excessive,' said Henry Mu, a 24-year-old biology major. 'Are there guidelines? Are we supposed to check every five minutes?'"

Insider Higher Ed adds:

"[The bill] is a good thing, say victims' rights advocates. Female college students who make allegations are too often asked by college officials to account for their own actions, including what they were wearing and whether they tried hard enough to stop a sexual encounter.

"Others question whether the policy is an unworkable attempt at government overreach.

"How does a person prove they receive consent 'shy of having it videotaped,' said Joe Cohn, the legislative policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education."

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An Iraqi child walks next an empty house of a Christian family in Mosul on Aug. 8. The Arabic writing on the wall reads 'Real Estate of the Islamic State.' The extremist group took control of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, in June. (EPA/Landov)

Life Under The Islamic State: Sharia Law And Few Services

Aug 29, 2014

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People inspect the remains of a destroyed mosque in Mosul on July 27. Kurdish forces, known as the pesh merga, stand guard near the Mosul Dam on Aug. 17. U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State allowed the pesh merga to move in and take the area around the dam recently.

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Ever since the Islamic State seized Mosul more than two months ago, it's been difficult to get a detailed picture of life inside Iraq's second largest city.

But glimpses have emerged. This week, the United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay presented details of a massacre that took place at the city's Badoush prison in June. Islamic State fighters seized more than 1,000 inmates. The group spared the lives of their fellow Sunni Muslims, but gunned down some 670 people.

It's been too dangerous for Western journalists to go to Mosul. But NPR contacted several Mosul residents by phone, including a 46-year-old shop owner, reached through intermediaries, who gave his name as Mohammed Ali. He says he has no doubt that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, committed the massacre.

"I have a friend who works in the Badoush jail. He told me, 'I saw many bodies in the valley near the prison. It was full of bodies,'" says Ali. "I asked him who it was. He said, 'ISIS killed so many people.'"

As for the Sunni prisoners from Badoush, Ali says the Islamic State had other plans for them.

"Some of our relatives, they're Sunnis, they were in Badoush jail, they are aligned with al-Qaida," he says. "Most of them were set free when ISIS took over, and now they're working with the ISIS people."

The Mosul residents NPR spoke with were reluctant to give their full names, for fear of retribution against their families.

Sermat, 29, a civil servant who declined to give his full name, says the makeup of the Islamic State force has changed noticeably since June, with those patrolling the streets now recognizable as local Arabs.

"In the beginning, when (the Islamic State) came there were many foreigners, from Syria and elsewhere," he says. "Then local people from the city, either sympathizers or just those who needed money, joined in, and now it seems most of the fighters are local."

An American At A Cafe

Seif, a 34-year-old civil engineer, lives in the Temmuz neighborhood, a Sunni stronghold where Islamic State fighters first appeared in June. He says the number of fighters in Mosul now is fewer than most people outside the city think. But there are still some foreigners among them, including an American he met at an Internet café.

"He said he was from America and he was trying to call his family. He said he was Muslim, but his parents were not," says Seif. "He had lost part of one leg below the knee, and he had a gun over his shoulder."

Seif did not get the American's name or hometown and his account cannot be verified. U.S. officials say more than 140 Americans are believed to have traveled to Syria or Iraq to join the fighting.

When asked if people in Mosul support the Islamists or want them to leave, these residents say the only ones supporting the occupation are a few extremists and poor Sunnis who were disenfranchised under Iraq's Shiite-led government.

Sermat, the government worker, says people are getting fed up with the deteriorating living conditions.

"There are no services - the electricity is on for only a couple hours every two or three days," he says. "The garbage collectors aren't working. They get no salary and they have no gas for their trucks. There isn't very much food, no refrigeration, many stores are closed."

These Mosul residents say they want their jobs back, and they want to live in a legal state again where the government provides services. They have no idea, however, when that might be. So far, the Iraqi government has not given any indication of an imminent operation to retake Mosul.

Peter Kenyon reported from Erbil, Iraq. You can follow him @pkenyonnpr.

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Poonam Aunty (Upping the Aunty)

A Photographer Captures The Often-Overlooked 'Aunty' Couture

by Tanvi Misra
Aug 29, 2014

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Sunita Aunty Shoba Aunty Rashida Aunty Ramvati Aunty Gunalaxsmi Aunty Suproba Aunty

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"Ugh, she dresses like SUCH an aunty!" is usually not something you'd want to hear about your style, if you're South-Asian.

An "aunty" or "aunty-ji" (depending on where you want to fall on the graph of respect and familiarity) is what you call a lady roughly around your mother's age. So, the family friend who has seen you grow up, your mom's co-worker, the lady next to you in the grocery line or the nosy neighbor whose questions about your love-life you endure because she makes a killer biryani — they all qualify.

While the stereotype makes aunties famous only for food and unsolicited advice, their style — like this salwar-kurta and sneakers combo, a staple — has not always been in the spotlight. Until now.

"Upping the Aunty" is a mixed-media art project started by Toronto-based artist Meera Sethi, who's trying to debunk this myth that aunties don't have swag. In the project's first phase, Sethi took photos of women in Mumbai and Toronto and posted them on her Tumblr and Instagram — kind of a street style series.

"You see such great, such interesting ways of putting things together," she says. "I wanted to capture that — the colors and the patterns and the accessories — the whole package."

For Sethi, the purpose is to question how we look at fashion - what makes something cool? What makes something worthy of attention? And then start looking at "other markers of fashion and other notions of style."

The other goal behind the project was to pay homage to the aunties like the ones that surrounded Sethi herself, while she was growing up in Toronto. They are "cultural figures," Sethi says, who have made many contributions to their societies and communities.

In fact, aunties permeated the lives of Sethi and her South Asian friends to such an extent that even when they weren't physically present, they would often pop up in conversations and jokes.

"(We would) engage in 'aunty-speak' — so using maybe voices and phrases that our aunties have used, with each other, sort of, in jest," Sethi says.

Spurred by these conversations and a plethora of aunty-themed Internet memes and YouTube videos, Sethi started thinking about the cultural knowledge that gets passed on by aunties — especially in diaspora communities.

After a spell of linguistic "pun"-ditry determined the project's title, it all came together. The title isn't just ornamental though. Sethi literally intends to take the project to another level: she wants to collect more photos, have more conversations with aunties about their style and then paint portraits of them embellishing that style.

As she works towards these ambitions, Sethi relishes the individual connections she makes with her muses when she stops them for the picture.

"At first, they might be puzzled or surprised that I want to take their photo but generally, they're flattered," she says. "Some of them have told me I've made their day or given me a hug."

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Smoke billows from Mount Tavurvur after an eruption in Kokopo, east New Britain, Papua New Guinea, on Friday. The eruption has caused some nearby residents to be evacuated and some flights to be rerouted. (AP)

Volcanoes In Iceland, Papua New Guinea Keep Residents On Edge

Aug 29, 2014

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Two volcanoes half a world apart are causing havoc today: Several flights have been diverted around an eruption in Papua New Guinea, and authorities in Iceland briefly put aviation on highest alert (again) due to a temperamental Mount Bardarbunga, which has been rumbling for the past week.

Mount Tavurvur on Papua New Guinea's East New Britain island erupted Friday, sending smoke and ash skyward. There have been no reports of injuries, but some residents in nearby Rabaul town were evacuated and others were told to stay indoors after the eruption, which occurred about 3:30 a.m. local time. Qantas, Australia's flag carrier, says it is rerouting two flights from Sydney, one to Tokyo and the other to Shanghai that would otherwise have passed close to the erupting mountain.

David Flinn, a resident of Papua New Guinea, tells Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the volcano was emitting steam and occasionally boomed. Flinn said about half an inch of ash covered surrounding areas, according to The Associated Press.

The Rabaul Volcanological Observatory says: "The eruption started slow and slowly developed in a Strombolian [low level] eruption with incandescent projections, accompanied by explosion noises and ongoing loud roaring and rumbling noises."

Australia's International Business Times writes: "The volcano has a record of regular low-level eruptions, but some residents fear that the Friday morning's eruption could be the worst eruption since 1994."

Meanwhile, Iceland briefly raised its aviation alert from orange to red, its highest level, after a fissure eruption at Bardarbunga overnight. The level is now back down to orange. The BBC explains:

"The new alert, the second-highest, means that aviation authorities can now decide if planes may travel over the volcano's airspace.

"Scientists said a fissure eruption 1km (0.6 miles) long started in a lava field north of the Vatnajokull glacier.

"The volcano has been hit by several recent tremors."

Iceland Met Office seismologist Martin Hensch said it's impossible to predict how the eruption might develop, and that "one of the concerns is that the fissure opens into the glacier, but presently there is no sign of that happening," according to Reuters. He said the current eruption is 4 to 5 miles from the glacier.

As we reported earlier, the on again, off again concern about Bardarbunga started last week.

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The Rev. Willis Johnson (left), pastor of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, speaks to the Rev. Michele Shumake-Keller after the panel discussion in Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday. Johnson said he hoped the event would be a step to healing a "community in trauma." (Whitney Curtis for NPR)

Plea To Ferguson's Leaders: To Help Heal, Acknowledge Our Hurt

Aug 29, 2014

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The conversation drew about 200 people to Wellspring Church. Over the course of two hours, many members of the audience shared similar reactions to problems in Ferguson. Ferguson resident Frankie Edwards shows a rubber bullet wound he suffered during one of the nights of protests to NPR's Michel Martin (right) and Ferguson Mayor James Knowles (second from right) during the community conversation at Wellspring Church. Corinna Anjali (left) speaks to Mayor Knowles after the event. "You're in the hot spot as the one person in power," Anjali said to Knowles. "It's important for you to say 'I hear you' to the people who have been hurt." Ramvati Aunty Gunalaxsmi Aunty Suproba Aunty

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(Editor's Note: NPR's Michel Martin was invited by St. Louis Public Radio to moderate a community conversation on Thursday around race, police tactics and leadership following the shooting death of Michael Brown. The following story is based on what happened at the event.)

Ferguson, Mo., is a study in contrasts. It boasts spacious Victorians in its historic section, with lush green lawns, many featuring "I Heart Ferguson" signs. Just blocks away, there's a burnt-out QuikTrip. The signs here read "Hands Up, Don't Shoot." In some cases, there are boarded-up windows advertising plans to reopen, or decorated with the town's thanks for the love and support.

Not far from either: A mound of teddy bears and dried flowers marks the spot where 18-year-old Michael Brown fell after being shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Brown's death not only put a spotlight on these contrasts, but has also encouraged people to try to address them.

That was the Rev. Willis Johnson's hope. He's the pastor of Wellspring Church, which hosted a community conversation Thursday night that drew about 200 people. In welcoming the audience, Johnson acknowledged he's "gone from feeling hurt to wanting to hurt," but he said he hoped the event would be a step to healing a "community in trauma."

Over the course of two hours, many members of the audience — black, white, young and old — shared similar reactions.

Ferguson resident Jeff Schultz said the problems that came up in the course of the weeks of disturbances were "invisible to white people like me." He urged the group to find ways to begin to talk about these issues in a way that would keep other whites from getting defensive. But a number of the African-American attendees repeatedly described feelings of being disrespected by institutions and individuals that were supposed to serve them.

"My people are not respected. ... Look at the schools: Which schools are in trouble?" said former Missouri state Sen. Rita Days. "Those are schools with predominantly people that look like me."

She urged the group to acknowledge those divisions.

A panel of community leaders — which included Days; top law enforcement officer Daniel Isom, a retired St. Louis police chief and the incoming director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety; and Kimberly McKinney, a Habitat for Humanity executive — wrestled over questions about the police tactics used during the demonstrations, but also about those used on a regular basis, which some observers have suggested is tied to raising money for fines and fees.

Many people expressed particular disgust at the treatment of Brown's body, which remained on the scene and uncovered for more than four hours after the shooting. Much of the anger was directed at Ferguson Mayor James Knowles and others, who attended the event.

David Jackson, a member of the St. Louis Board of Education, was blunt.

"I am so disappointed in you as a leader," he said. "The buck stops with you. It starts with you."

Among the more remarkable developments of the evening was the emergence of an increasingly vocal group of young people who, prompted by social media and word of mouth, arrived at the event to share their experiences and demand accountability. They spoke of being tear-gassed, spoken to roughly by authorities and shot by rubber bullets.

One of the more dramatic moments came as a young man who introduced himself as Frankie Edwards pulled up his shirt to show the mayor a freshly scabbed scar from a bullet wound he received while protesting in Ferguson. He asked Knowles to apologize on behalf of the police, and asked the mayor whether he would step down.

Knowles pointedly said he would not.

"I'm not stepping down," he said. "The voters have an opportunity to relieve me when the time comes."

But African-Americans were not the only people to express disappointment with Knowles' leadership through the crisis. Emily Davis, a white mother of three who lives in Ferguson, said her first emotion after Brown's death was deep sorrow, "but now I am angry," she said.

She had been out protesting or volunteering daily with her children, but "I still don't see any engagement [from the police]. And my kids are confused. My son said, 'I thought police were the good guys.' "

Another attendee, Geoffrey Higginbotham, said this was his third riot, after the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles following the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"I came here to the city of Ferguson about 2 1/2 years ago to speak about economic development and how we address these issues," he said. "They were not ready for it."

Both Johnson, the pastor, and Isom, the former police chief, concluded the evening on pensive notes.

Isom asked for the community's ongoing engagement in addressing the issues raised over the course of the evening.

"I just feel sorrow. I feel sorry that as a leader in St. Louis, we haven't done a really good job," he said. "I'm redoubling my effort to hold myself accountable, and see what I can do to make it better. But I can't do it by myself."

Johnson added: "I am hurt. Sometimes I feel a little helpless. But I am hopeful, because I know there's a better day."

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