Grantee Stories

Rape of Alaska Native Women High; Police Investigations Low

For years, Alaska Native women have urged officials to address a crisis of violence throughout their state: Reported rapes are twice the national average, and child sexual violence is six times the national average.  Alaska’s western region has the state’s highest rate of felony sex offenses, and the overwhelming majority of victims are Alaska Native. Victoria McKenzie addresses the issue in a story co-published by Associated Press and National Native News.

In Nome, a city of fewer than 4,000 full-time residents that serves as a regional hub for dozens of smaller villages across western Alaska’s Bering Strait region, rape survivors and their supporters say the city’s police department has often failed to investigate sexual assaults or keep survivors informed about what is happening with their cases, even after they underwent invasive rape exams. An analysis of police records shows that, over the past decade, only 8 percent of calls to the department about sexual assaults resulted in an arrest with charges filed. Even fewer made it to court.

Photo credits: AP Photo/ Maye-E Wong

Flint’s Deadly Water

FIJ grantees Abby Ellis and Kayla Ruble released the documentary, “Flint’s Deadly Water,” with Frontline. The project followed a two-year investigation, in which Ellis and Ruble uncovered the extent of a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak during the Flint, Michigan, water crisis — and how officials failed to stop it.

The disease’s outbreak in Flint was one of the largest in U.S. history, sickening at least 90 people and killing 12, according to state data. But Ellis’s investigation strongly suggests the actual toll was much higher.

Photo: Frontline

“An Unbelievable Story of Rape” Made Into a Netflix Series

T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong’s award-winning investigation with ProPublica and the Marshall Project, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape,” has been made into a Netflix series, “Unbelievable.” The investigation detailed the ordeal of a young woman who was coerced by authorities into recanting a claim that she had been raped.

FIJ provided Miller and Armstrong with a grant when they wrote a book on the same investigation, “A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America.” In their acknowledgments, the reporters thanked FIJ for its support: “The Fund for Investigative Journalism–which, in its first year, helped pay for Seymour Hersh’s work exposing the My Lai massacre–kindly provided us with a grant to defray our research costs for this book. So many journalists owe the FIJ a debt of gratitude. Count us among them.”

How Washington, D.C. Charter Schools Outmaneuvered Local Scrutiny

For six months, FIJ grantee, Rachel M. Cohen investigated the D.C. charter school lobby, tracing the history of how the charter sector has evolved over the past two decades. Using public records requests, document leaks, countless interviews and hours of archival research, Cohen pieced together for Washington City Paper How Charter Schools Won D.C. Politics, a story of how federal intervention, an army of lobbyists, and D.C. taxpayer dollars have all helped local charters successfully beat back government oversight.

Artwork by Julia Terbrock

We Know Female Genital Mutilation Has Been Happening in the US

Journalist Suman Naishadham, writing in VICE, reports on the first federal prosecution of a female genital mutilation case in the U.S., and traces the surprisingly vexed history of the tradition here.

The case has reignited a longstanding debate over what constitutes the practice and how best to handle it. Secrecy around the issue in America means there is little data on it, and there are few arrests. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that around 560,000 females had undergone or were at risk for genital mutilation.

Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz for VICE

The Power Brokers

Juiced,” a report by Will Carruthers and FIJ grantee Peter Byrne, looks at how California power giant PG&E  oiled political machinery after the 2017 and 2018 California wildfires that killed more than 100 people and caused vast destruction in residential communities. PG&E was found responsible for the most lethal fire and is implicated in others.

It is part of an investigative series by the North Bay Bohemian, a Northern California news site. The series called “The Power Brokers” focuses on the nexus of power, money, media, and politics in Sonoma County. A previous story, “Graton Expectations,” revealed how lobbyist and local media magnate Darius Anderson defrauded an Indian tribe that was developing a casino business.

Artwork by the North Bay Bohemian

Poisons in Washington State’s Puget Sound

In 2017, the U.S. Navy scraped the hull of the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Independence directly into Puget Sound, dumping tons of toxic, copper-laden debris into Sinclair Inlet near Bremerton, Washington. Now environmental groups, the Suquamish Tribe and the state of Washington seek to hold the Navy responsible for what they say is an “egregious violation” of water quality laws that could harm wild salmon. Cascadia Magazine investigates.

Photo: The USS Kitty Hawk, by Nia Martin 

First Amendment and Open-Records Laws May Limit California’s New Privacy Law

A Los Angeles woman who alleges that her doctor raped her at home five years ago has tried in vain to get “people search” sites such as MyLife and Spokeo to stop posting her address, to no avail.

The California Consumer Privacy Act, a statute approved last year and scheduled to become law in January 2020, could help victims like her. But even this groundbreaking legislation may not force the sites to delete personal data. The law’s impact is apparently limited by the First Amendment and open-records statutes, the San Francisco Public Press reports.

Photo by Taskin Ashiq on Unsplash

The Impact of Fracking Boom in Ohio: Who’s Listening

Julie Grant, with The Allegheny Front, a Pittsburgh-based public media news outlet, examined how Ohio agencies are reacting when residents, landowners, and activists raise concerns about the oil and gas industry in their communities. Grant produced Who’s Listening, a 4-part public radio and online package for stations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Story 1: Some Ohio Citizens Who Complained About Oil and Gas Feel “Abandoned” by the State

Story 2: Ohio Law Favors Energy Development Over Private Property Rights

Story 3: Citizens Stepped in to Protect Water When Ohio Lawmakers Did Not

Story 4: Health Problems Abound Near Oil and Gas Wells in Ohio

Patrick Hunkler and Jean Backs get drinking water for their house from spring water collected in this cistern. They are concerned that fracking could affect their water. Photo: Julie Grant

California won’t prosecute all violators of data-privacy law

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says his office is ill-equipped to prosecute violations of the state’s landmark data-privacy law, which takes effect in January, the San Francisco Public Press reported. Only a handful of the most egregious cases will be prosecuted per year. Instead, he wants aggrieved consumers to take violators to court on their own. The story was the third part in a series on data privacy, “Your Data, Their Dollars,” online and in print editions of the Public Press this year.

Stacey Schesser, supervising deputy attorney general on consumer protection, testifying at a state Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in April in support of Senate Bill 561, which would give consumers the power to sue companies under the California Consumer Privacy Act. At left is committee chair Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, Democrat from Santa Barbara, who sponsored the bill. Photo via California Senate

Is New York State’s Justice Center Just?

The Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs investigates abuse and neglect in New York State facilities. But Alisa Partlan and Hella Winston found out the agency’s work procedures may be causing more harm to both residents and caregivers. They describe the Center’s flawed practices in their investigation Is the Justice Center just? published by City & State New York.

 

Photo by Supawadee56/Shutterstock

Guards and Medics Prey on Women Prisoners at LA County Jail

At the Los Angeles County Century regional detention facility for women, former and current inmates say prison deputies submit prisoners to a range of sexual abuse acts—from overt assault to more subtle misconduct.   A recent federal audit found the jail, located in Lynwood, a small city adjacent to Compton and Watts, to be in violation of federal sexual safety laws, and found evidence of “serious and troubling allegations of sexual abuse and sexual harassment.”

But in her story in The Guardian, The California Jail where Women Say Guards and Medics Preyed on them, which was also published by WitnessLA,  Lauren Lee White, describes an even more toxic abusive culture where guards and other officials promote subtler encounters and behavior: Prisoners who flirt get extra food, and others who engage in exhibitionism get more time outside their cells.  This behavior is harder to track than overt sexual assaults.

Michele Infante says she was raped at Century regional detention facility in 2011. Photograph: Tobin Yelland

Pulitzer Prize for book on fracking in Appalachia

Congratulations to Eliza Griswold, who has won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction for her book Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America. She received an FIJ grant to help her reporting on the health, economic and political costs that follow in the footsteps of the American fracking boom.

The Pulitzer committee called the book “A classic American story, grippingly told, of an Appalachian family struggling to retain its middle class status in the shadow of destruction wreaked by corporate oil fracking.”

Head Count: How many people died during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico?

Radio Ambulante episode “Head Count” goes behind the scenes in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit the island on September 20, 2017. Ambulante’s reporters went to court to get the Puerto Rico government to release the mortality data.  The program brings to light how hundreds of victims, mostly elderly, died, not during the hurricane, but in the six months after the storm.

The radio program was underwritten by the Ford Foundation, which sponsored the FIJ/Schuster Institute diversity fellowships.

Seeking Conviction: Justice elusive for NC sexual assault survivors

Justice is elusive for sexual assault survivors in North Carolina, according to Seeking Conviction, a  4 ½ year investigation of North Carolina court data by Carolina Public Press. The data project found that fewer than 1 in 4 sexual assault defendants in that time window were convicted, and that convictions were reached through plea deals and not through trials.

The multimedia, data-driven investigative series, also found that during the years monitored, more than a third of North Carolina’s 100 counties had zero sexual assault or reduced-charge convictions.

The low conviction rate may be due, in part, to two legal precedents in North Carolina. One says that it is not a crime to sexually assault someone who is incapacitated due to their own drinking or drug use. The other is unique to North Carolina, the only state in the nation where you cannot withdraw consent, meaning that if you change your mind after first giving consent, it is not considered a crime if you are then sexually assaulted.

Seeking Conviction, is a multi-part investigative reporting project that CPP led in collaboration with 10 other news media partners around North Carolina.

Samantha White survived a sexual assault when she was 16.  [Melissa Sue Gerrits/The Fayetteville Observer]

Texas has a big dam problem

For years, more than 7,000 small dams across Texas have gone unregulated or uninspected. Despite their size, many small dams are ticking time bombs, according to safety experts. And state data show that the rate of failure for these dams is increasing dramatically: Of the approximately 300 dam failures in Texas since 1910, half have occurred in the last nine years. The effects of climate change further compound the impact as increasing rainfall – particularly in the eastern half of the state – leaves more and more communities threatened.

In Dammed to Fail in the Texas Observer, Naveena Sadasivam traces the history of a burgeoning crisis, one fueled by this lack of regulatory oversight and political will on the part of the Texas Legislature.

In March 2016, floodwaters dug a 50-foot wide hole on the downstream end of this dam. Photo by Delos Dewayne Collins for the Texas Observer

In California, new legislation may disrupt the disruptors

In November, San Franciscans voted to amend their city charter to add data protection guidelines for city entities, contractors, businesses and individuals. Since then, city supervisors have introduced legislation to restrict or ban the use of most surveillance and facial recognition technology in the city. But the most controversial aspect proposes being able to use online services in San Francisco without providing any personal details.

Writing in the San Francisco Public Press, Andrew Stelzer explores the quickly evolving regulatory environment around digital privacy in California, and in particular looks at the proposed changes in San Francisco.

City leaders have made bold, but so far not very specific, claims about their ability to limit the personal-information free-for-all that is at the heart of the business model for data brokers, many startups, and other digital enterprises.

Those proposals are potentially disruptive to a tech industry that reaps riches from “disruption.” And critics warn that aggressive regulations could chase data mining companies out of San Francisco, or into the courts to battle regulators.

Illustration by Reid Brown for San Francisco Public Press

Trafficking documentary a finalist for Goldsmith Prize

Congratulations to Daffodil Altan and Andrés Cediel! Their FRONTLINE project “Trafficked in America” was a finalist for this year’s Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting

The story tells of Guatemalan teens forced to work on an Ohio egg farm, and exposes a criminal network that exploits undocumented minors, the companies that profit from forced labor, and the role of the U.S. Government.

The documentary originally aired in April, 2018, on PBS.