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#MeToo

Laura Ahearn of the Crime Victims Center speaks during a press conference to announce a consortium to tackle sexual violence, flanked by from left District Attorney Tim Sini, Legislature Leslie Kennedy, Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Hochul and Legislator DuWayne Gregory. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Leaders from private and public sectors came together April 20 to form a partnership that would make Randy Newman proud.

“You’ve got a friend in me,” was the message from members of the local business world following the creation of the Long Island Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Consortium, an initiative spearheaded by Laura Ahearn, executive director of Suffolk County’s The Crime Victims Center.

The organizations currently partnering with the Crime Victims Center to form the Long Island Sexual Violence and Response Consortium. Photo by Alex Petroski

As a direct result of the #MeToo social media movement turned global awakening, societal response to accusations of sexual misconduct and crime has undergone a swift change, especially in cases in which the accused is of a high-profile. But lawmakers and advocates for the movement have been asking an essential question since the movement ensnared the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar back in 2017: How will men who are not famous perpetrating acts of sexual violence against victims who need their job to survive truly be held accountable? Ahearn’s consortium may serve as a model in answering that question.

“We asked them to just do one thing to help us prevent sexual violence, and we would be satisfied if that one thing was just to be a member of our consortium, because they’re very busy,” Ahearn said of her pitch to business leaders when trying to rally support for the partnership. “We didn’t want to pressure them, and we didn’t want to ask them for money, because every time they hear ‘not-for-profit,’ they’re like ‘money?’ So instead, what we did is we said ‘just do one thing. Just come to our consortium, give us your logo and you’ll be part of what we’re doing to raise awareness.’ There’s a certain amount of credibility that a big company adds to an organization just working to prevent sexual violence.”

The CVC, Ahearn’s organization, is a not-for-profit organization that has been a relentless advocate for victims of all crimes since the late ‘90s. It assists victims of child sex abuse and rape, provides services to victims of violent crime, and assists elderly, disabled and minor victims of all crime. To form the consortium, Ahearn presented a list of options businesses could incorporate into its standard practices, which if adhered to should make workplaces on Long Island safer for vulnerable members of the workforce.

The list of options businesses were asked to pick from and incorporate to become a member included adding a link to the LISVP consortium on businesses’ websites; providing prevention education and victim services materials in new employee orientation; adding prevention messages to receipts provided to customers; creating public service announcements; hosting training sessions aided by the CVC; and many more.

“All the degradation of women in the workplace that has gone on in the shadows throughout our lifetimes … it’s over.”

— Kathleen Hochul

Organizations signed on to be a part of the consortium so far include Stony Brook Medicine, Altice, Northwell Health, AT&T, Verizon, BNB Bank, Catholic Health Services of Long Island, TRITEC Real Estate Company, Uber, Lyft and many more. Ahearn said in most cases, leaders of the private sector institutions signed on to take more than one step on the list, and that only one organization she reached out to declined to join. She said she hopes to add to the current list of about 40 consortium partners.

Local lawmakers from virtually all levels of government also attended the April 20 press conference to announce the consortium in Hauppauge and voice support for the cause.

“All the degradation of women in the workplace that has gone on in the shadows throughout our lifetimes, whether it’s the insidious, quiet comments, innuendoes, or whether it’s the more blatant abuse — touching or physical violence — it’s over,” New York Lieutenant Gov. Kathleen Hochul (D) said.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) also attended the press conference to voice support for the initiative.

“In government we are often focused on what government agencies can do to help a cause, and often we’re shortsighted, and we don’t look beyond the walls of government,” Sini said. “Laura Ahearn doesn’t make that mistake, and it’s crucial.”

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Author Kathy Greene Lahey signs a copy of her book during an event in Port Jeff. Photo by Alex Petroski

In an environment of newfound societal emphasis on empowering women, a Port Jefferson resident has some useful tips.

Kathy Greene Lahey, who has lived in the village for 13 years and founded the political activism group Long Island Rising, published her first book titled “Taking Flight for Girls Going Places,” which she bills as a guide “to help keep independence-bound girls safe, empowered and free.”

A survivor of gender-related abuses as a teenager from catcalling to stalking to sexual assault who also required a stint in addiction recovery at age 24 to deal with alcohol and drug abuse, Greene Lahey said she feels like she was put on earth to work on this project. She also played a leadership role in establishing the 2017 and 2018 women’s marches that took place in Port Jefferson Station to coincide with national marches in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. The mother of three said she got the idea to author a manual for young women six years ago.

“Last October I said, ‘Either you write the book or throw it in the garbage, because the universe will give it to somebody else.'”

— Kathy Greene Lahey

“My daughter, when she was a teenager, started to get into a lot of trouble and she was running away,” said the licensed social worker, recalling events that occurred more than a decade prior with her daughter, who is now 30. “At the same time, I started taking karate with my sons and earned my black belt, and then I got certified in a couple of other self-defense programs. I realized I was learning all of this great information and I wished that my daughter had it, so I ended up starting to do ‘taking flight’ safety programs for adolescent girls at libraries [and] workshops.”

The program eventually transformed into a book idea, which got off the ground in October 2017.

“Last October I said, ‘Either you write the book or throw it in the garbage, because the universe will give it to somebody else,’” she said, explaining that a divorce and life getting in the way sapped some of her focus on the idea. “This has been really cathartic [for] me.”

Her timing ended up being perfect. As society has drastically shifted in a relatively short period of time in the way it responds to credible accusations of sexual abuse, a by-product of the global #MeToo social media movement that organically materialized as a way for survivors of abuse to share stories and show solidarity, Greene Lahey’s message is being delivered at an ideal moment for mass receipt. It also coincides with a staggering number of women set to take their first run at political office this November.

“I’ve been active trying to get things going for a long time, so I’m in my zone right now because people are responding and taking responsibility for their vote, their citizenship,” she said. “It’s so empowering when people are coming out and saying, ‘Yes, this happened to me.’ But the thing is that I’ve spoken to a lot of young women who are like, ‘Oh great, you showed us the problem, but what’s the solution?’ And this book is part of the solution.”

The book has more than 1,600 tips for preventing violence, from advice about abusive relationships to tangible self-defense strategies for violent situations.

“It’s so empowering when people are coming out and saying, ‘Yes, this happened to me.’”

— Kathy Greene Lahey

The author also said now is the perfect time to keep the focus on empowerment going. Greene Lahey, whose book can be purchased on Amazon, said she is also available for groups who would like for her to share her message with young women.

“In order for it to last, we need to teach the next generation to do that, and that’s what ‘Taking Flight for Girls Going Places’ is,” she said. “It’s really about teaching girls to take responsibility for their safety and their life.”

Her friends shared a similar sentiment that, based on her life experience, Greene Lahey seemed born to publish this book in this particular moment.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Barbara Lyon said about the book during an event to celebrate the publication at Port Jefferson Village Center April 15, while recalling something her friend of 15 years said to her. “‘I’m writing all this stuff down because I think it’s important,’ and to put it all together as a book — it’s a great time for it to come out.”

Lyon, among several other friends of the author who attended the event, expressed excitement about being able to give the book to the young women in their lives.

“I bought it for my niece,” said Mary Balslove, a friend of Greene Lahey’s for 25 years. “She’s in college and I thought, ‘It’s the perfect thing for her.”’

Gretchen Carlson. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Hundreds came out to hear a former TV anchor at the forefront of the #MeToo movement at Stony Brook University April 17.

Gretchen Carlson, the television anchor who forced Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes of Fox News to resign in July 2016, helped create the backdrop for the #MeToo movement. As the most recent in the “My Life As” speaker series offered by the School of Journalism at SBU, she described in graphic detail how she came to play that role in what has been called “The Year of the Woman.”

Carlson filed her lawsuit July 6, 2016, alleging sexual harassment after being let go by Fox June 23of the same year. She described being harassed, and said Ailes “spoke openly of expecting women to perform sexual favors in exchange for job opportunities.” Subsequently, other women came forward to similarly accuse Ailes, and by Sept. 21, Century Fox, Fox News’ parent corporation, had settled the lawsuit for $20 million. More important than the money to Carlson was the public apology.

That is just the bottom line on the exceptional life of Carlson. Born and raised in Minnesota, she is the granddaughter of the pastor of what was then the second largest Lutheran congregation in the country. She too was used to being in the spotlight. A child prodigy, she was a violin soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra at age 13, was the valedictorian of her high school class and entered the Miss America pageant in 1989 at her mother’s suggestion and won. She was the first classical violinist to wear that crown. The money that came with the honor went toward her senior year’s tuition at Stanford University, from which she graduated with honors. She also managed to fit in a year of study at the University of Oxford in England, where she focused on the writings of Virginia Woolf.

She has, no doubt, healthy self-esteem. Interested in a career in broadcast journalism, she worked her way up the ladder as reporter and anchor from smaller to larger stations, reaching CBS in 2000. She became cohost of the Saturday edition of “The Early Show.” In 2005, Fox News made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, and she became cohost of the morning show “Fox and Friends.” Then, in 2013, came “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson.”

Along the way, she was subjected to sexual harassment of varying degrees. She finally complained to Fox’s human resources department, and when her contract was up in 2016, she was let go. That was shortly after she repulsed the alleged sexual advances of Ailes, setting up her grounds for the lawsuit.

Since she lost her job and won the lawsuit, she has been working hard to stand up for other women who may be faced with similar circumstances. She has spoken to many groups across the country, mentioning a recent talk at an all-boys high school. Carlson ardently believes that sexual harassment is not just a women’s problem. She posits that it is a men’s problem, and that boys at a young age need to be taught by the men in their lives to respect — and how to act with — women. She is using money from her lawsuit toward foundation to give young women leadership training and call out their courage.

On Jan. 1, Carlson was elected chairwoman of the board of the Miss America Pageant. She said to expect some significant changes.

Protests outside Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan's East Northport home March 23. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Roughly a dozen protesters marched up and down Cayuga Avenue in East Northport Friday morning greeting residents as they headed to work with chants of “hey hey, ho ho, predators have got to go.”

The New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators, a coalition of child sex abuse survivors, advocates, and advocacy organizations, stood outside state Sen. John Flanagan’s (R) home to protest his opposition to the Child Victims Act March 23. They carried signs reading “Stop protecting predators & start protecting kids” as well as blown up copies of the New York Daily News front cover “Protectors of the Predators” featuring Flanagan’s photo.

Kathryn Robb protests with others outside Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s East Northport home March 23. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The rally’s aim was to push the Senate Majority Leader to use his position among Republicans to negotiate approval of the legislation that would open up the state’s statute of limitations of child-sex abuse crimes.

“I think that the power and energy of the ‘Me Too’ movement has really opened people’s eyes,” said Kathryn Robb, a Manhasset resident and child sexual abuse survivor. “We’re saying enough is enough, time is up. The laws in New York need to change. They are archaic and protect the predators, not victims.”

The Child Victims Act, if passed, would extend the time that child-sex abuse victims have to file a lawsuit from age 23 to age 28 in criminal cases, and up to age 50 in civil cases. In addition, the passage of the bill would open up a one-year period where survivors could file claims previously not permitted under the current law.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included the Child Victims Act in his 2018 executive budget for the first time, after the bill was passed by the state assembly in 2017. The March 23 rally coincides with the last weekend of negotiations before the April 1 deadline to approve the state budget.

The act has been blocked by Senate Republicans numerous times during the past 14 years, according to Marci Hamilton, a founding member of the New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators and CEO of CHILD USA, a nonprofit think tank that seeks to end child abuse and neglect through evidence-based research.

“We are out here to tell Senator Flanagan it’s time to finally put this bill to rest and pass it,” Hamilton said. “He has personally refused to meet with us.”

Protests outside Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s East Northport home March 23. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Sen. Flanagan and his spokesperson were not immediately available for comment in response to this morning’s protest.

In a pre-Election Day 2016 sit down with TBR News Media and his then Democratic challenger Peter Magistrale, Flanagan addressed the Child Victims Act and statutes of limitation.

“We have statutes of limitations for very cogent reasons and no matter how emotional a subject may be, witness availability, evidence, all those things have a salutary effect in terms of what happens,” he said.

Hamilton said the protest group has plans this afternoon to meet with state Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) in her office to discuss her position on the Child Victims Act and attempt to negotiate her support of the bill’s passage.

Marchers made sure the #MeToo conversation continues on campus.

Student Aleeza Kazmi, one of the approximately 250 marchers at Stony Brook University Feb. 28, said the mission of the event was to show support for survivors of sexual assault and harassment, and to request the university increase preventative measures and provide more assistance for survivors.

Kazmi said it’s important for the university’s administration to respond to the requests, especially with Stony Brook being a HeForShe 10×10×10 IMPACT school. The university is one of 10 schools involved in the UN Women initiative, the United Nations gender equality entity that aims to engage men and boys to encourage the empowerment of women. The student said the university needs to do more for sexual abuse survivors.

“HeForShe is used as a shield and a title and a publicity move for President Stanley and the rest of the administration to say we are here with women, and we support feminism,” Kazmi said.

David Clark, vice president of the student organization Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, said when Kazmi came to the student organization with the idea, he agreed that it was needed on campus.

“She wanted to make sure the #MeToo movement was having a bigger conversation on campus,” Clark said. “And, she had some of her own concerns about Stony Brook, while being a HeForShe IMPACT school, not really talking much as far as official statements and events about #MeToo and sexual harassment.”

Before the march, Kazmi read a poem and statement from Arianna Rodriguez. In February, Rodriguez alleged that SBU swimming and diving coach Janelle Atkinson, who was dismissed from her position, emotionally abused members of the team.

“I challenge you to support your friends and fellow classmates who have been victims of sexual assaults and to help guide them back to normalcy,” Kazmi read from Rodriguez’s statement. “And, I challenge all the survivors of sexual assault to continue living normal lives. I know it’s hard at times, but no one is stronger than you are, and your strength will give you the power to live life to the fullest and persevere. No matter who tells you differently.”

Clark said he was pleased to see so many students and some faculty members, both females and males, in attendance.

“We were pretty certain that there were going to be people who were survivors there, whether they said it or not,” Clark said. “We wanted to make sure that they knew that the student body supports them and that they’re in an environment where they are believed and, whether or not they choose to report, that there’s support for survivors here at Stony Brook.”

FMLA also composed a letter that will be submitted to SBU administrators. At press time nearly 100 student groups and organizations, students, alumni, faculty members and community organizations have signed it.

Clark said among their requests, the signers asked in order to maintain the protections of survivors, that the university keep certain practices in place such as letting both parties appeal the rulings of sexual misconduct hearings and prohibiting cross examination between the accused and accuser during sexual misconduct hearings. Clark said members of FMLA are concerned after the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education made changes to Title IX. Among the rights of students it covers in the educational system, the federal civil rights law ensures students involved in sexual
assault and harassment cases are afforded certain protections.

In the letter the protesters also asked for the university to address the issue of Atkinson and the allegations made against her.

Kazmi, a journalism student in her junior year, said she and Clark met with Jeff Barnett, assistant dean of students, a few days before the rally, and with Cathrine Duffy, associate director of student support, March 2. Kazmi and Clark said they feel university administrators have been receptive to the students and their ideas.

“I feel optimistic that the university is going to be open to working with us,” Kazmi said. “I don’t think the university is against increasing awareness for survivors and preventing future sexual assaults.”

After the rally, LeManuel Lee Bitsóí, chief diversity officer at Stony Brook, released a statement supporting the students.

“It was great to see so many SBU community members participate in the #MeToo rally today,” Bitsóí said. “It illustrates the level of engagement by our students around social justice and equity issues and challenges that all of us face in society.  Our leadership team is inspired by the activism of student leaders and we collectively support them in their efforts.”

Post was updated March 6 to reflect additional comments from David Clark, Aleeza Kazmi and LeManuel Lee Bitsóí.

Suffolk County Legislator Monica Martinez sponsored two bills regarding sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace for county employees. Photo from Suffolk County

All those in favor say #MeToo and #TimesUp. In a unanimous 18-0 vote, county lawmakers passed legislation last week that will set better standards and practices regarding sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace for county employees.

During its Feb. 6 meeting, members of the Suffolk County Legislature pushed forward two bills sponsored by Legislator Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood).

“My hope with these laws is that we become a safer county, that it gives something to build a foundation on and that people can feel comfortable in the workforce here,” Martinez said. “To me, it was mind-boggling that we didn’t really have anything set in the county, especially being one of the biggest counties and employers, so I’m proud of it and I really thank my colleagues for supporting me.”

“My hope with these laws is that we become a safer county, that it gives something to build a foundation on and that people can feel comfortable in the workforce here.”

— Monica Martinez

The first bill mandates the director of the Office of Labor Relations provide county legislators statistics on “the number, type and disposition of employee disciplinary proceedings” involving sexual harassment or discrimination for 2015, 2016 and 2017 within 90 days; and submits this information by Feb. 28 of each year, starting in 2019. The bill also states that the county attorney must issue a report that contains a list of all sexual harassment and discrimination claims filed against Suffolk County in court, plus the settlement of any litigation claims, for 2015, 2016 and 2017 within 90 days; and, again, submit this annually starting in 2019.

“The way the resolution in the policy is designed is that it would be broken down between county departments and, within each department, the division within that department will have a more concise gathering of data,” Martinez said, adding that names will be redacted from the data to protect the privacy of those involved. “This will really help us hone in on what’s going on and who we need to focus on in each department.”

She added she hopes the bill can help prevent sexual harassment lawsuits and reduce costs for taxpayers in the future.

According to Martinez and the elected officials who co-sponsored and supported the bill — including Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Legislator
Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) — the legislative body as a whole has never been made aware of these kinds of settlements or given insight into how many active complaints there are or the nature of those complaints, until now.

“In the past, if you didn’t ask, you didn’t get it,” Anker said. “But basically, here, we’re not asking, we’re telling them.”

Gregory said this will help make things more transparent.

“This will give us information so that we can fully exercise our oversight function as a policy-making branch of government.”

— DuWayne Gregory

“If we see there are things going on and there’s a pattern, then we have to be sure that the proper training is being provided to the various departments, or [an] individual department,” Gregory said. “This will give us information so that we can fully exercise our oversight function as a policy-making branch of government.”

Hahn agreed, saying that all the women in the legislature are eager to crack down on this issue.

“We want to be sure that our voices are heard,” she said. “When we say ‘me too,’ we are protecting all the women that work for the county and work within the county, and we’re all looking for ways to do more.”

She said there’s no question there have been incidents at the county level.

“There’s clear understanding that there’s a pervasive problem in our society, and a clear recognition that those statistics are important for us to understand,” Hahn said. “The better question now is, do we know how many? Do we know how pervasive this is? Do we know if we need more training or better training?”

The other bill passed will create a county policy in which all employees hired will be given a “Know Your Rights” pamphlet, maintained by the Department of Civil Services and Human Resources and issued by the director of the Office of Labor Relations. All new employees will be required to sign a document acknowledging they have received the pamphlet.

This will inform new employees who to contact if an issue arises and provide accountability.

“We need to get people aware that there is information pertaining to protecting their rights and protecting them from sexual harassment or discrimination, or both,” Anker said. “It’s a proactive measure … we are taking.”

Within the Crime Victims Center, a children’s play therapy area is designed to allow children to play out their trauma with a therapist, and to prepare for court appearances. Photo by Alex Petroski

In a time of changing cultural and societal norms related to the treatment of victims of sexual abuse, Laura Ahearn now has a movement behind her decades-long mission.

The founder of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, a not-for-profit organization, has been a relentless advocate for victims since the late ‘90s. What started as a small operation running out of her Three Village home advocating for sex offender registration has grown into a three-pronged program that is used as a model by other advocacy groups. The CVC assists victims of child sex abuse and rape, provides  services to victims of violent crime, and assists elderly, disabled and minor victims of all crime. Its mission is now virtually a daily part of the national conversation.

“The #MeToo movement has created an ideal climate for us to call upon legislators to help us change a culture which has minimized sexual harassment.”

— Laura Ahearn

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for organizations like ours that have worked with child sexual abuse and adult victims of sex crimes to be able to open up a dialogue now with a higher volume of a voice with state, local and federal legislators,” Ahearn said after attending a breakfast at Stony Brook University that featured lawmakers from across Long Island and all levels of government. The meeting was part of a daylong event designed to start a conversation about localizing the national #MeToo movement, a social media campaign started by Tarana Burke, a survivor of sexual violence. Burke also attended the SBU event.

“The #MeToo movement has created an ideal climate for us to call upon legislators to help us change a culture which has minimized sexual harassment, and a society or environment whose prevailing social  attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and sexual harassment,” Ahearn said.

The group has a list of legislative goals it would like to advance in 2018, like criminalizing “revenge porn” and advancing the Child Victims Act, a state law that has passed the Assembly but not the Senate, which would extend the time frame for a victim to bring forward allegations against an abuser.

Victim advocacy

Though its actual functions have evolved over the years, advocating for victims remains Ahearn’s and the CVC’s primary objective.

The center, with locations in Ronkonkoma and Patchogue, is a certified rape crisis center.
The group has long provided advocacy for child victims of sexual abuse, and has since added advocacy components for adult rape and adult domestic violence victims. In 2006, the mission shifted to provide support for victims of all violent or hate crimes.

“These are cases that are failing between the cracks and no one was helping them,” said Ahearn said, a New York State licensed attorney and social worker.

“You feel like ‘This is why I’m doing this.’”

— Sally McDonald

Since 2015, the organization has been fed cases from the Suffolk County Police Department and District Attorney’s office through a cloud-based computer software program, allowing the CVC to directly contact innocent victims to begin providing support under the direction of Mike Gunther, CVC’s director of advocacy and victim services. The cloud program has served to streamline a process it had been carrying out since 1999. Ahearn said the CVC has helped to recoup $5.5 million for Suffolk County crime victims from a county fund to cover unexpected costs for innocent victims, as some have health insurance costs or other expenses to cover in the aftermath of a traumatic incident. Currently, the CVC has between 2,500 and 3,000 cases it’s handling, and its founder said the organization is always in need of more case managers.

The group regularly sends advocates Diana Shuffler and Diana Guzman to Human Trafficking Intervention Court, a New York state initiative established to aid victims of human trafficking in every aspect of getting their life back on track, and put legal issues behind them. Prior to the program’s inception, Guzman said victims of human trafficking picked up for other crimes like prostitution were treated like criminals. The CVC even works with the FBI.

Sally McDonald, a certified therapist and victim advocate at the CVC who is passionate about the work  she does, said she has cases with victims ranging from 4 years old to adults in their 60s.

“It’s exciting — it’s so nice to see anybody do well, but especially a child,” she said of seeing someone’s life improve as a result of her work. “You feel like ‘This is why I’m doing this.’”

Ahearn stressed the importance of following up with victims and ensuring his or her traumatic incident is truly behind them.

“Whenever you’re dealing with any kind of violent crime or trauma, unless there are support services, those are individuals that are going to need help,” she said. “If they’re not getting the help they need … those kids whose families were victims of violent crime are going to gravitate toward who they believe is going to protect them, and in those communities that would be the ones that, believe it or not, are the perpetrators.”

“Whenever you’re dealing with any kind of violent crime or trauma, unless there are support services, those are individuals that are going to need help.”

— Laura Ahearn

The Ronkonkoma office features therapy rooms for all ages, including a child therapy room where kids are prepared for what to expect in a court setting, or play out personal trauma using a sandbox, toys or art therapy.

Sex offender monitoring

Megan’s Law gets its name from an incident in the mid-‘90s in which 7-year-old Megan Kanka from New Jersey was lured into a neighbor’s home, sexually assaulted and murdered. The culprit was a twice-convicted sex offender, and after a nationwide lobbying effort, Megan’s Law was passed in 1996 and required all 50 states to release information to the public about known convicted sex offenders.

Ahearn was one of those involved in the lobbying effort, and Parents for Megan’s Law was born. In 2014 the CVC implemented a new monitoring program to keep addresses and other important information about the county’s roughly 1,000 registered sex offenders current. Ahearn’s sex offender monitoring staff is comprised entirely of retired law enforcement officers, who regularly check up on the people on the list face-to-face to ensure their information is accurate and up to date.

The organization also has a Megan’s Law helpline as well as a tip line, should community members want to report anything related to a registered sex offender in their area.

Prevention

When describing the CVC’s prevention arm, Ahearn uses an analogy. Imagine you’re fishing, she says, and three separate times during the day you have to dive in the river to save people who were drowning as they headed downstream. How many times would you have to dive in the water to save a life before heading upstream to see why so many people are falling in the water and nearly drowning?

Led by prevention program manager Kim Malone, the CVC provides workshops for children, teens, parents and adults designed to empower them with knowledge and skills aimed at protecting against sexual abuse and abduction.

The CVC offers workshops for schools and organizations geared toward every age group.

To contact the Crime Victims Center call 631-689-2672 or visit www.parentsformeganslaw.org.

This story was updated Jan. 31 to correct the spelling of Laura Ahearn’s name.

#MeToo social media movement founder Tarana Burke answers questions during a public forum at Stony Brook University. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Long Island men and women are prepared to keep the #MeToo conversation going in their communities after an appearance by the movement’s founder, Tarana Burke, at Stony Brook University Jan. 28.

More than 500 people filled the Sidney Gelber Auditorium in the Student Activities Center for #MeToo … #LIToo, a Q&A with Burke led by three young women of i-tri girls, a free program working to raise the self-esteem of middle school-aged girls on the Island’s East End by training them for a triathlon. Abby Roden, Noely Martinez and Maria Chavez posed questions to Burke that covered a range of topics, from how she felt when the #MeToo movement gained momentum, to empowering survivors of sexual abuse and harassment, to showing empathy when a someone shares his or her story.

Burke, a survivor of sexual violence, said it can be difficult to talk about sexual assaults or harassment because he or she feels isolated.

“The idea behind #MeToo being an exchange of empathy is that if you tell me this thing that is already difficult to say, one of the hardest things in your life, and my first response is, ‘Me too,’ that draws you in,” she said. “Regardless of what else is discussed, we have an automatic connection now.”

Giving advice for those who may not be able to say “me too” when a survivor shares a story, Burke said the best thing to do is ask what he or she needs. If the person says nothing, don’t keep asking.

After the #MeToo movement went viral Burke felt crippled. She said she stopped reading comments on her social media posts, even though most responses were thoughtful.

“I had people telling me I was too ugly to get raped, sexually harassed,” Burke said, adding that she is thick-skinned, and didn’t let the comments get to her. “‘You look like a man.’ Just awful, awful things.”

The movement also affects the LGBTQ community — something Burke said is personal for her, as her daughter identifies as queer and gender nonconforming. She said many young people in the LGBTQ community deal with sexual abuse, and it’s important they tell their stories, too.

“Survivors of sexual violence, we’re not victims,” Burke said. “That’s why we call ourselves survivors. We have solutions, we have answers and we have the experience.”

Attendees said the forum was uplifting and meaningful.

“It was very empowering and definitely brought the community together,” said Cassandra Gonzalez, a graduate student at LIU Post. “It just brings awareness to the #MeToo movement.”

Retired teacher Terry Kalb, of Wading River, said Burke is skilled at connecting others through experiences, calling the forum “beyond inspiring.”

“I liked the fact that there was such emphasis on the intersectionality of this issue,” Kalb said. “I think it’s very important that the vast majority of the people who are marginalized with domestic violence issues, sexual harassment issues and sexual violence issues — all people — are afforded a voice. This just can’t be about celebrity issues; it has to be about people who are often powerless to be able to respond. That they be the focus, because that’s where the most damage is done.”

Updated Feb. 1 to add additional quotes from Tarana Burke.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn is among the lawmakers hoping to use the #MeToo moment not only to change culture, but to change laws. File photo

Like a tidal wave slamming into the shore the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, born of high-profile sexual assault and sexual harassment cases becoming public, are decimating decades-old culturally accepted standards regarding behavior in the workplace and otherwise. In an effort to keep up with rapidly shifting societal norms, lawmakers from local town governments all the way up through the federal level are examining existing laws pertaining to workplace sexual misconduct while also crafting new ones to cover potential lapses — in government and the private sector.

Laura Ahearn, an attorney and the executive director of The Crime Victims Center, a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of sexual abuse and rape, as well as providing support for victims of violent crimes, said she views the #MeToo movement as a valuable opportunity.

“The #MeToo movement has created an ideal climate for us to call upon legislators to help us change a culture which has minimized sexual harassment and a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and sexual harassment,” she said, adding her organization, which runs the Parents for Megan’s Law website, has many state-level legislative priorities currently in the works.

“Women have been taught to believe that performing sexual favors for their bosses is part of the job.”

— Marjorie Mesidor

While cases of harassment, assault and general sexual misconduct involving prominent men in government and the entertainment industry are resulting in serious consequences, through loss of employment or social pariah status, low-profile offenders, especially from the private sector, are likely avoiding them. Creating concrete ways to punish offenders operating out of the public eye will be a challenge for lawmakers going forward.

According to Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), the county passed legislation in December mandating all elected officials and department heads be trained on sexual harassment and assault by the Office of Labor Relations.

The law mandates elected officials and department heads be trained starting 2018, and again every two years. Anker said she’s hoping to amend the law to make it mandated that every new hire be educated once taking a position.

Marjorie Mesidor, a partner at New York City’s Phillips & Associates law firm, which specializes in employment discrimination and sexual harassment cases, said she was floored to hear the law was only just put in place.

“Great progress,” she said. “I’m not mocking it, but my stomach is churning.”

Mesidor pointed at state and federal laws that require a complaint to be filed in order for businesses with management-level employees accused of harassment to be legally held liable as a deterrent in justice being achieved for victims. She said when formal complaints are made by employees, cross examination follows that takes on the tone of “slut shaming.” She said that in itself is enough to prevent many women from filing initial complaints, thus harming their harassment cases in the future.

“I’ve seen a trend of cases come into our office of women who are in forced sexual relationships with their bosses over time,” she said. “They’ve been taught to believe that performing sexual favors for their bosses is part of the job.”

“What about someone working in a deli, the restaurant waitress — their jobs, their life depend on that paycheck from the boss who might just be making them uncomfortable … It might be much worse.”

— Kara Hahn

Employees and employers in the private sector are often unaware of their rights and what constitutes harassment that would hold up in court, according to Mesidor. She said New York City Human Rights Law doesn’t require formal complaints, and should be looked to as an example for writing harassment laws.

Bills are currently in committee in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that would amend the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, a law passed to require Congress to follow employment and workplace safety laws applied to the business world. The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), if passed, would reform procedures for investigating harassment complaints in Congress and require public announcement of the offender and the dollar amount in the cases where settlements are reached. This week, Newsday reported more than $10 million of taxpayer money has been used to settle 88 sexual harassment, discrimination and other related cases in state government over the last nine years.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she would like to see laws put in place requiring businesses to adopt best practices when it comes to sexual harassment, rather than simply providing legal cover for the ones that do.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) agrees.

“What about someone working in a deli, the restaurant waitress — their jobs, their life depend on that paycheck from the boss who might just be making them uncomfortable,” she said. “It might be much worse.”

In October 2015, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation to prevent harassment in the workplace. The legislation directed the state Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights to make training available to employers to help them develop policies, procedures and their own training to address and eliminate discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Cuomo signed legislation “Enough is Enough” that year, which requires all colleges to adopt a set of comprehensive procedures and guidelines, including a uniform definition of affirmative consent, a statewide amnesty policy and expanded access to law enforcement.

Participants at the 2017 Women’s March in Port Jeff Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Over the course of the last several months, we’ve seen the dominance of men in power being stripped down. The day-to-day climate regarding sexual harassment and misconduct have surely changed, but we need to keep this #MeToo dialogue open.

TBR News Media hosted female local government officials, lawyers and activists at our Setauket office to speak about their feelings regarding the behavior of men, and we thank them for their openness and raw stories, sometimes relating to men of high status.

While high-profile allegations and apologies mount, it’s not the actors, politicians and TV stars with whom we should be most concerned. It’s the people around us. We’ve found most often that it’s just when we share our stories, big or small, that we’re really getting somewhere. Getting people together — especially women in power — we can come up with strategies to enact change. We hope that what’s lasting from this remarkable moment in history is not just the list of famous men left in the rubble, but rather the idea that leveraging power to diminish someone else’s self-worth is a thing of the past.

Hearing the wide array of stories from women who have been elected to lead communities, from being grabbed during a middle-school class to being asked inappropriate questions by a boss, the truth is that these things can happen to anyone. And it’s clearly time for a cultural overhaul.

We hope that a byproduct of this moment is also prevention, which can come in the form of education to ensure our boys don’t grow up to become the sexual abusers of tomorrow. To guarantee that this happens, we would like to see school districts and colleges create stricter rules and hold kids accountable for their actions, whether they’re the star lacrosse player heading to the championship or the valedictorian of their class.

In the process of this shift, we don’t want to run out of steam. An issue so long ingrained in society needs a multipronged approach. With that, women shouldn’t fear sticking up for themselves — think about it not as your job being on the line but your principles on the verge of breaking. While the bad behavior of powerful men is what has created this movement, raising confident girls and creating an environment for them to flourish into strong women is another antidote.

Women are, at last, being heard. But we want to make sure that every woman is heard. The focus should be on the prey and not the predator. Just because your abuser wasn’t famous doesn’t mean your story doesn’t need to be heard. To keep steering the #MeToo ship in the right direction, we will continue to run stories on the development of the issue. If anyone, male or female, would like to share a story, anonymous or not, call 631-751-7744 or email desiree@tbrnewsmedia.com. The only way to get to a better tomorrow is to share the stories of yesterday and today, to heal, to learn from our actions and to create stronger reactions in the hopes of continuing to rip down the abuse of power that has landed us in this mess.

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