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    The first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden took place on September 29, 2020. The 90-minute debate featured a series of bitter exchanges and name-calling as Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox struggled to facilitate the conversation. Wallace repeatedly admonished the president for disregarding debate rules and interrupting Biden’s speaking time. A “will you shut up, man…It’s hard to get any word in with this clown” from Biden serves as a recap of how the night went and resonates with many of the American people.

    Among the six debate topics, the issue of race and violence in our cities was prompted followed by a question to gauge each candidate’s ability to combat race issues. In response, Trump claimed that he was better suited than Biden to eliminate these issues and is “doing better than any Republican has done in a long time” – an opinion that is unpopular among Black and Brown voters. The President also referenced the 1994 Crime Bill, a controversial piece of legislation that reinforced punitive responses to deter crime and incentivized states to build more prisons. In an effort to weaken Biden’s arguments, Trump accused Biden of referring to Black people as superpredators. Biden refuted Trump’s accusations with the statement “I did not say that. I’ve never said that.”

    Fact- Check: Did Biden Call Black People Superpredators?

    According to NBC News, Trump’s accusation was “mostly false.” In fact, it was Hillary Clinton, the former United States Secretary of State, who used the term in support of the 1994 Crime Bill. However, Biden, a co-author of the law, did warn of “predators” in a 1993 floor speech he delivered in support of the bill. According to Biden’s speech in 1993, predators were “beyond the pale” and must be sanctioned away from the rest of society because the criminal legal system does not know how to rehabilitate them. Since then, Biden has publicly apologized for his past stance on criminal legal issues and admitted that the decisions made in that era “trapped an entire generation.”

    The term “superpredator” was coined in 1996 by John Dilulio, a Princeton professor who predicted that a wave of ruthless, violent young offenders was on the horizon. According to Dilulio’s theory, these young people were so impulsive that they could engage in violent crimes without hesitation or remorse. A 1997 report published by the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice found that juvenile courts in the United States processed more than 1.7 million delinquency cases in 1995, a 7-percent increase over the 1994 caseload and a 45-percent increase over the number of caseloads handled in 1986. Compounding an influx of juvenile proceedings was significant research suggesting a strong relationship between childhood adversity and involvement with the juvenile or adult criminal systems. Eventually, public officials supported Dilulio’s theory, which resulted in tough-on-crime policies for young and adult offenders across the country. 

    While it is true that incarceration rates were already high by 1994, the passage of the federal crime bill disproportionately impacted communities of color. The bill exacerbated racial and ethnic disparities in state prisons by deploying more police into neighborhoods of color. Considered “one of the cornerstone statutes that accelerated mass incarceration,” a combination of more prisons, racial profiling, and mandatory minimum sentencing funneled a generation of Black and Brown people into the juvenile and criminal legal system. Today, The United States and federal prison population has increased since 1994 and widened racial disparities. According to a 2020 data analysis, more than 60% of people in prison today are people of color and Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men, with Hispanic men being 2.7 times as likely. Consistent with both candidates’ remarks, the Black and Brown community continues to bear the harshest brunt of discriminatory policies and practices. 

    Fight the Fake: The Importance of Fact-Checking and How to Recognize A False Claim

    In a world with unlimited access to social media and the internet, fact-checking is conducive to making informed voting decisions. Making informed voting decisions means that an individual is knowledgeable about the topics and positions of candidates who are running for office. Additionally, it means that an individual is able to make their own decisions without influence from outside factors, including misinformation found online. Acknowledging that fact-checking is not always an easy task, especially with constant, savvy efforts against it and persuasive content, here are five ways to combat misinformation and cast informed votes:

    • Detect whether the statement is a claim of fact.
      • When a statement that you heard jumps out to you, ask yourself if it is a claim of fact. It’s important to note that opinion, rhetoric, and satire have a place in public debate. Although you can not fact-check opinion, fact-checkable claims can be easily spotted. Sometimes, these claims feature tangible nouns (housing or insurance), numbers, and comparisons (“the economy is doing better under my administration”), and they also contain statements about what a candidate has achieved.
    • Think about the context of the claim.
      • It may be helpful to ask yourself what the claim leaves out. When a candidate claims to have influenced massive economic growth, for example, it’s important to look into the status of the economy before the candidate was elected into office.
    • Find reliable sources to test the validity of the claim.
      • Depending on the claim you are fact-checking, the best sources may be government-run websites and records, peer-reviewed articles with large sample sizes, or well-known organizations with credibility such as The Commission on Presidential Debates.
    • Is the candidate claiming credit that is not due?
      • Another misleading trick is to claim credit for something that was the result of another elected official’s agenda. If an elected official claims that they combated systemic issues while in office, it’s worthwhile to dig deeper to see who was responsible for the specific changes they are referring to. 
    • Accept that you’ll have critics.
      • Lastly, it’s important to recognize that you will have critics. As you know, everyone is entitled to their opinion even if it is different than your own. However, that does not mean you have to conform- you have the autonomy to make decisions based on your lived experiences. 

    All in all, ignore the Twitter and Facebook trolls and make informed decisions for you and your loved ones. Despite how advanced and easily accessible information is on TV, social media, and the internet, it is ultimately up to you to remain vigilant and seek the truth.

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    Ivana Boyd (she/her) is a Staff Writer for SWHelper and is a current MSW student on the Macro track at Boston University School of Social Work. Ivana is passionate about youth justice, racial equity and advocacy.

    Justice

    How Focusing on Teen Pregnancy as a Personal Moral Failing Deepens Social Inequality

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    In the 1980s and 1990s, concerns about teen pregnancy voiced by policymakers and pundits helped garner support for welfare reform – as the public reached a consensus that teen pregnancy contributes to poverty and was encouraged by overly lenient welfare programs. Resulting welfare changes in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 imposed strict lifetime limits on the number of months a poor family can receive assistance while making it harder for impoverished families to qualify and remain eligible for aid. This policy was supposed to reduce welfare dependency by promoting work, reducing out-of-wedlock and adolescent pregnancies, and promoting marriage.

    However, studies show that the age at which a person gives birth is not causally related to poverty or negative health outcomes for the parent or child. Teen pregnancy is a symptom of poverty, rather than its cause. While the 1996 law is credited with reducing the welfare rolls, experts argue that it has also increased the number of Americans living in at the deepest level of poverty. Declines in adolescent pregnancy cannot be attributed to that policy shift. If anything, welfare reform may have increased the rate of adolescent pregnancies among welfare recipients.

    Welfare Reform and Shifting Perspectives on Teen Pregnancy

    After the 1996 passage of welfare reform, conversations about teen pregnancy that had previously included attention to urban conditions, unemployment, inadequate health care, and the shortcomings of public education turned to an almost-exclusive focus on adolescent sex and the personal and moral failings it supposedly represents. My research examines political discourse, popular culture, and national and local efforts to prevent teen pregnancies to better understand why teen sex and childbearing remain central to popular culture and policy debates, despite research showing that teen pregnancy is a symptom of poverty and not a cause. I further examine why there has not been a reevaluation of welfare policy despite the documented shortfalls of earlier reforms. And I also probe how these two phenomena may be related.

    Moral arguments have featured prominently in debate about adolescent sex since the 1970s, when teen pregnancy was first named as a special problem. Before the 1996 welfare legislation, however, the moral aspect was one of many. Only since then have the personal moral responsibilities of teen parents become the only lens through which responses are discussed.

    Who Shapes Images of Teen Pregnancy and Why?

    Some of the same voices that narrowed the discussion of welfare reform in the 1990s still shape discussions today. In 1996, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (recently renamed Power to Decide) was founded as a counterpart to welfare reform. Power to Decide remains influential and is guided by leaders who helped popularize the overly-narrow view that teen pregnancy is largely a moral issue. In addition to helping enact welfare reform, these politicians and social scientists changed the debate about teen pregnancy. But to what end?

    By studying shifts in public portrayals of teen pregnancy as a problem in national debates and in the activities, social media output, and television contributions of Power to Decide, I discovered that the moralized focus has specific effects:

    • It removes teen pregnancy from the context of welfare. Whereas the issue was almost exclusively part of political debates about the welfare system in the 1980s and 1990s, in subsequent decades it is discussed primarily within debates about sex education and abortion.
    • It paints the issue as an equal-opportunity problem. No longer is teen pregnancy represented as primarily plaguing Black and Latina communities. In shows like 16 and Pregnant, which has a mostly white cast, as well as in online games with multicultural characters and public service announcements with high-profile celebrities such as Bristol Palin, teen pregnancy is now publicly portrayed as equally affecting all races and classes.
    • It depicts burdens of teen pregnancy as primarily physical and emotional. Stress on the pains of childbirth and the strains of parenthood for young relationships displaces earlier discussions of the potential impacts of teen pregnancy on a young person’s economic self-sufficiency and educational attainment.

    Such shifts in public discussion fail to account for race, class, and the importance of social institutions in shaping the rate and experience of adolescent pregnancy. If U.S. systems of education, welfare, taxation, criminal justice, and health care are not portrayed as contributing to this problem, they will be left out of proposed solutions. The current focus on personal morality avoids addressing any societal roots or remedies. Instead, politicians and advocates informed by the rhetoric of the 1996 welfare reform offer attractively packaged information about sex and morality – often safely conveyed on the Internet – as their response to teen pregnancy. Questions of racism, inequality, and the inadequacies of the social safety net do not arise. In effect, public framings of teen pregnancy as a personal and moral problem blink at systematic racial disparities and leave low-income Americans vulnerable as inequalities widen.

    Better Approaches

    Focusing on teen pregnancy as a moral failing distracts citizens, policymakers, and advocates from addressing the real problems in young people’s lives. Instead, the priorities should be:

    • Reducing discrimination against pregnant young women and young parents in schools.
    • Providing comprehensive sex education and reproductive health care to all young people, not in the name of stigmatizing certain pregnancies but to equip adolescents with the knowledge and tools to make informed choices about sex and reproduction.
    • Replacing earlier failed welfare programs with economically redistributive measures to help people in difficult life circumstances – and boost the resources of marginalized communities.
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    Justice

    New Center to Combat Global Human Trafficking

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    Each year, an estimated 800,000 people are trafficked globally, though the true number may be higher. In a quest to arm officials and stakeholders around the globe with more accurate and trusted data to better understand and address this global problem, the University of Georgia has established a new interdisciplinary center to combat human trafficking through research, programming and policy development.

    The Center on Human Trafficking Research & Outreach will be housed in the School of Social Work, and David Okech, an associate professor at the school, will serve as the center’s first director. This collaborative effort aims to identify better ways to measure the prevalence of trafficking while crafting real-world solutions to best equip nongovernmental organizations and policymakers with the tools and information they need to combat trafficking.

    Joining Okech in driving research and program development at the center are Nathan Hansen, a professor of health promotion and behavior at the College of Public Health, Tamora Callands, an assistant professor of health promotion and behavior at the College of Public Health, Jody Clay-Warner, professor in the department of sociology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and Lydia Aletraris, an associate research scientist in the School of Social Work. They have been part of the African Programming and Research Initiative to End Slavery, known as APRIES, which is providing the foundation for the transition into a center.

    “Science is always a building block,” Okech said. “You build it up, and sometimes it’s big and sometimes it’s small, but you keep building. Through the center, we want to let the research speak for itself. If particular research or methodologies work, good, and if it doesn’t, then we need to think about what else could work because right now we don’t know what really works well in terms of estimation methods and generating reliable data that can inform anti-trafficking policies and programs.”

    Faculty members across campus from law, political science, psychology, public health, social work and sociology as well as postdoctoral research associates and students all will be active in advancing the center’s mission in enhancing the science around measuring and monitoring the prevalence of human trafficking and implementing plus evaluating evidence-based programs and policies to reduce the problem.

    “Human trafficking and modern slavery are large, complex problems that require solutions from multiple perspectives to address,” Hansen said. “Thus, a multidisciplinary center allows a variety of disciplines to work together on these problems. Further, locating this center at the University of Georgia allows access to the broader university community, including many talented and motivated faculty and students, who can contribute to finding solutions to these issues.”

    “Having a center will enable us to take all of our collective expertise, knowledge and skills, and package it in a way where we can get this information out to those who need it,” Callands said. “This will be a center that will benefit from the connections we have, the work we’re doing and the lessons learned, enabling it to be successful. That means sharing information with others, and providing trainings, programming and other resources to advance this important work.”

    It’s the culmination of a years-long effort by Okech and his team to advance efforts to not only better understand and track global human trafficking and human slavery, but also curb this epidemic of cruelty.

    Estimating the Prevalence of Trafficking

    Okech has been instrumental in guiding the success and growth of APRIES, securing close to $24 million in implementation research funding from the Program to End Modern Slavery at the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons since 2018. Research, policy and programming work is being done in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal. In Brazil, Costa Rica, Morocco, Pakistan, Tanzania and Tunisia, the center is collaborating with U.S.-based and local  researchers to test and validate the existing methods of human trafficking prevalence estimation through the Prevalence Reduction Innovation Forum program.

    “As far as we know, this is the first time that researchers are applying and comparing more than one method to measure human trafficking prevalence on the same population,” Aletraris said. “The results from the Forum should be able to provide guidelines on which methods work best and why. This will be extremely helpful, not only for research on human trafficking, but for research on other hidden populations as well.”

    By rolling APRIES into the center, its work will benefit from greater collaboration and an infusion of funding to help Okech’s team better monitor prevalence, while also developing effective interventions that are appropriate and customized for those who have been trafficked. The center will also expand its focus to include domestic trafficking, including trafficking here in Georgia as well as in other parts of the U.S.

    Crucial to that work is eliminating that knowledge gap when it comes to prevalence. Without a practical understanding of the severity of the problem, it is difficult to craft solutions.

    And while Okech said one distinct measurement of success for the center is a drop in the prevalence of human trafficking, he noted an initial increase could also be interpreted in several ways, including more public awareness leading to more reporting. This would indeed be a good thing but ultimately, efforts should lead to measurable and drastic reduction in human trafficking.

    “Human trafficking is a multidimensional and complex problem,” Okech added. “It is important to address the root causes of trafficking by focusing on the drivers and facilitators of the phenomenon.”

    Preparing Future Researchers

    Also crucial to the center’s success is preparing the next generation of anti-trafficking researchers and advocates. As such, the center will offer an immersive learning experience to students across the university. Okech noted many programs and centers of study offer ample opportunity for research, but he and his team envision integrating students into nearly every facet of its operations.

    “They’ll be involved in writing manuscripts for publications and grant applications. They will be involved in engaging with various stakeholders so they can grasp the problem holistically as well as the array of solutions to mitigate the problem,” he said. “They’ll be involved in meetings with local government officials so they can understand how policy is made. They’ll be involved with our programs so they can see and experience how such initiatives are run.”

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    Justice

    Partnering with Clergy to Prevent Domestic Violence

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    Domestic violence remains a serious and widespread problem in the U.S., particularly for women from racial or ethnic minorities, who experience higher rates of abuse than the national average. Now, a team of researchers from the University of Georgia have developed an online training that leverages the influence of religion to prevent intimate partner violence in Korean American communities.

    The CDC defines intimate partner violence as physical or sexual violence, stalking, or psychological harm caused by a current or former partner or spouse.

    “For many immigrant communities, the commonality that I witnessed, and that research bears out, is that religious organizations and religious leaders are a very important piece of the puzzle to prevent partner violence because they have so much power in the immigrant communities,” said project lead Y. Joon Choi, an associate professor in UGA’s School of Social Work.

    While some religious traditions have at times reinforced gender inequity and norms that discourage women from seeking help, religious leaders have the power to shape attitudes and behaviors within their communities and promote new norms that support healthy relationships and reject partner violence.

    Aware of this critical influence of religious leaders, Choi wanted to not only educate clergy on the problem, but empower them to speak out against violence and support parishioners who come to them for help.

    Choi collaborated with Pamela Orpinas, professor of health promotion and behavior in UGA’s College of Public Health who also studies intimate partner violence, and instructional designer ChanMin Kim with Penn State University, to build a program comprised of four interactive case simulations that guide clergy through real-world scenarios. The program is called Religious Leaders for Healthy Families.

    The researchers worked with domestic violence prevention groups and gathered feedback from Korean American faith leaders to present cases that were culturally appropriate and supported the clergy’s ability to be domestic violence prevention advocates.

    “What we wanted to see was behavior change,” said Orpinas. “After this training, are faith leaders going to be able to help victims when they suspect abuse? Are they going to be involved in the prevention of partner violence within their congregation?”

    The key, say the researchers, is to build confidence within faith leaders that they could take action to promote healthy relationships and connect domestic violence service providers to parishioners who need their support. The interactive case simulations allow clergy to practice responding to victims who are experiencing different types and degrees of partner violence in a safe space.

    “We wanted to make sure that through this medium, they were able to practice how they are going to interact,” said Choi, “and also they are going to learn what are good responses versus dangerous, unsafe responses for the victims. We are hoping to increase their self-efficacy through this intervention.

    Though this project is focused on Korean American clergy, the team designed the modules to be easily translated to other communities.

    “Much of what they need is there,” said Orpinas, “in terms of asking open-ended questions and supporting and believing the survivor. The case simulation helps clergy practice how to talk about those things.”

    The team is eager to see the program be adopted more broadly by immigrant communities or any community where faith leaders are trusted and influential resources.

    The full development of the online program, including theoretical underpinnings, community feedback, and performance objectives, is described in a paper published in Health Promotion International. It is available here.

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