Attorney General Endangers Women and Children with New Restrictions to Asylum Law

Attorney General Sessions’ decision concerning Matter A-B- reverses decades of asylum law and puts at tremendous risk the lives of women and children who have suffered horrendous domestic violence in their home countries. Read our statement.

Our Statement

Sanctuary for Families stands with survivors of violence in condemning yesterday’s announcement by U.S. Attorney General Sessions to overturn Matter of A-B- — a case which he referred to himself and one in which he directed immigration judges to deny asylum to survivors of domestic violence.

That heartless decision reverses decades of asylum law and puts at tremendous risk the lives of women and children who have suffered horrendous domestic violence in their home countries. It also leaves vulnerable victims of other human rights abuses including forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The United States has long been a safe haven for immigrants who have been persecuted and cannot rely on their own governments to protect them. This decision by A.G. Sessions eviscerates that safe haven, limiting the types of cases in which immigration judges can grant asylum and thereby increasing the likelihood that women, children, and others will be sent back to their persecutors.

Hon. Judy Kluger, Executive Director of Sanctuary for Families, stated:

“At Sanctuary for Families, too many of our clients bear the scars of unrelenting intimate partner violence that occurs in countries where no government or authorities will intervene. For many, a forced return to their nation of origin will be nothing short of a death sentence.”

Lori Adams, incoming Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project, said:

“This callous move by the Attorney General threatens the lives of those seeking refuge in the United States, after having suffered tremendous violence and believing that this country would stand by its promise to protect those who cannot find safety in their own countries. It is a huge step backward for this country and an atrocious way to treat vulnerable immigrants who came here seeking our help.”

This decision was issued in the wake of other brutal immigration changes including a sharp increase in the criminal prosecution of asylum-seekers for “illegal entry” and a practice of separating mothers from their babies and young children at the U.S.-Mexico border to detain them in separate immigration jails, for the stated purpose of deterring families from making the journey north to seek protection in this country. It is cruel and inhumane to treat mothers and children as pawns in a political game.

Sanctuary for Families and other legal services and human rights organizations will continue to work together to push back against this incremental erosion of the rights of asylum-seekers to seek protection in this country. We invite you to stand with us and to fight for the rights of all survivors of gender-based violence.

Take Action

Donate to support Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Program

Call your Senators and Congressional Representatives and use the script below:

“Hi, my name is NAME, I’m from CITY, STATE, and I’m a constituent of SENATOR / REPRESENTATIVE NAME. I’m calling today to ask SENATOR / REPRESENTATIVE NAME to stand up for victims of gender violence, those escaping gang warfare, and LGBTQ+ people, and demand that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reverse his decision on the Matter of A-B-. Sessions’ decision to deny asylum to those persecuted by private actors is a cruel step backwards for our country. Please speak out. Thank you.”

What You Didn’t Know About Cyber Sexual Abuse

Cyber sexual abuse, commonly known as “revenge porn,” is often misnamed and misunderstood. Spring Communications Intern, Lauren Altus, shares five key facts everyone should know about cyber sexual abuse.

Lauren Altus is a communications intern at Sanctuary and a recent graduate from Johns Hopkins University.


‘Revenge porn’ or ‘cyber sexual abuse’?

Cyber sexual abuse, commonly known as “revenge porn,” is often misnamed and misunderstood. In fact, it is difficult to find a simple, coherent definition for this form of abuse.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “revenge porn” is defined as: “Revealing or sexually explicit images or videos of a person posted on the Internet, typically by a former sexual partner, without the consent of the subject and in order to cause them distress or embarrassment.”

This name misrepresents the crime for several reasons. First, it is not about revenge, and second, it is not about porn. Revenge suggests the victim did something to deserve this crime, in effect placing blame on the victim. Less a tool for revenge, cyber sexual abuse is more often used as a way to maintain control over the victim.

For example, thirty-year-old Amanda’s physically abusive husband constantly told her that if she ever tried to leave him he would share damaging photos of her with her family, friends, and even use them in attempts to gain custody. When she finally did leave, he did just that: posted photos of her—even ones taken without her knowledge—on social media. Now, Amanda lives in constant fear, wondering who might see these photos and how might it affect her and her children.

This example drives home our second issue with the term ‘revenge porn’. Porn, though this may not always be the case, is generally considered consensual. Like in Amanda’s case and in others Sanctuary has seen, the photos and videos that are shared are sometimes taken unbeknownst to the victim or are photoshopped or “spoofed” (manipulated using photo editing software or other technology). Even if the photos are taken consensually – i.e. within the context of an intimate relationship – posting these photos online without the consent (and often without the knowledge) of the victim, is a nonconsensual act. For these reasons, we must call this crime what it is: cyber sexual abuse.

Over the last few years, cyber sexual abuse has become an increasingly common form of abuse due the omnipresence of social media in our lives. It’s also one we’ve seen highlighted in the media. From Jennifer Lawrence’s computer hack to Rob Kardashian posting nude photos of Blac Chyna, these instances have revealed the dire need for both legal protections and a better societal understanding of cyber sexual abuse.

Many people are quick to assume that every photo has been taken with the consent of the victim. Others think cyber sexual abuse can be written off as a joke, or that if their state has no law against it, it is okay to post photos of this nature.

Sanctuary attorney Lindsey Song, who has represented a number of victims of cyber sexual abuse in Family Court and with criminal justice advocacy, is the co-chair of the citywide Cyber Sexual Abuse Task Force. Below, she helps break down some of the stigmas surrounding victims of this form of abuse and tells us the five things we may not have known about cyber sexual abuse.

1. This is not just a millennial issue

There are many ways in which someone can become a victim of cyber sexual abuse, Song warns, and they can be anyone from a teen sexting to an eighty-year-old in a photoshopped image.

For example, thirty-five-year-old Molly did not send, or even take, a naked photo when she became a victim of cyber sexual abuse. Her ex-boyfriend photoshopped a photo of her face onto naked images he found online, and then sent those photos to people in her hometown where Molly was ostracized from her entire family and support system. She was then forced to rely on her abuser financially.

When Betty, a 60-year-old woman, broke up with her abusive boyfriend, he reacted by sending an intimate photo to multiple men who then tried to contact Betty online. The situation escalated until Betty had to quit her job as a nurse out of fear that her abuser would continue to send the photo to her coworkers. A New York police officer told her that this was her fault for sending the photo in the first place.

Some example of cyber sexual abuse include when a photo is posted online, shown to others, or disseminated, and that photo:

  • Was taken with consent of the victim but posted without it
  • Was taken without the victim knowing (i.e. the victim was sleeping or was the subject of hidden cameras)
  • Was stolen from a victim’s computer or private accounts
  • Was an image that is doctored, where someone has put the victim’s face on someone else’s body or otherwise made the photo appear to be of the victim when it is not
  • Was the result of forced production of an image (i.e. drugging a victim)

The one thing each of these victims have in common? “Victim-blaming in each of these situations needs to stop, because none of those victims consented,” Song said

2. A cyber-attack never truly has an endpoint

Song tells us that cyber sexual abuse can be “life-ruining in ways you don’t expect,” as cyber sexual abuse has “no beginning and end.” This often leaves victims fearful that more and more people will gain access to the photos. Unfortunately, no matter how tirelessly the victims and their lawyers work to remove the photos from the Internet, “a cyber-attack never truly ends” as the photos may be shared across multiple sites and platforms, screenshotted by viewers, downloaded onto various devices, and the full reach of the images is never truly known.

3. It’s not necessarily just photos or videos

Cyber sexual abuse does not just mean one photo is posted and it doesn’t necessarily mean only photos or videos. Attackers can post addresses, places of business, phone numbers, and other personal information so that strangers subsequently stalk the victim, sometimes demanding sex or harassing the victim in other ways. Song says that as a victim, there is a “constant weight on your shoulders.” Some of her clients have been forced to “change their names, move from their homes, and even change their children’s names,” while others have been excommunicated from their families and communities and even attempted suicide.

4. It is not the victim’s fault

This one should go without saying, but many judge victims for “allowing” the photos to exist in the first place. As Song points out, however, if a person gives their personal financial information to an accountant so that the accountant could do their taxes and then the accountant posted that private information on the Internet, everyone would deem this unacceptable.

As a society, we understand and frequently utilize the concept of specific and selective consent. It is only in the context of sexuality and the human body that this point gets blurry. In some instances the victim doesn’t even know the photo is being taken. Many attackers also use threats such as sending the photos to employers and family members in an effort to blackmail their victims. This is why Song urges us to remember “not to slut-shame, not to victim-blame, and that it is illegal to discriminate based on gender-based violence, which is what this is.”

5. The fear never goes away

A victim can obtain an order of protection to prevent dissemination and can report the crime to law enforcement. Victims can also contact websites directly to have nonconsensual pictures and videos taken down. Still, victims often carry around the fear of another post or another e-mail going up worrying and waiting for another attack.

For instance, when Celia decided to enter a beauty competition, her abusive ex-boyfriend decided to post videos of her engaged in sexual acts—ones that were taken without her knowledge or consent—onto pornography websites. He said that he did this in order to “make sure she never lived a normal life ever again.” It worked. Now, Celia is terrified to live her regular life, constantly in fear of what could happen if she upsets her abuser. Even though she was able to flee the relationship, her abuser continues to control her life, and will continue to do so until the law is changed to punish him for this horrific abuse.

In New York City, it is now (as of February 15, 2018) a crime to share, or threaten to share, an intimate photo without the subject’s consent or with the intent to cause harm to the subject. 38 states and Washington DC also have laws against cyber sexual abuse; however no statewide law currently exists in New York. While there are currently several proposals for legislation in New York State, none provide the full protections and avenues for justice that we believe victims need. Sanctuary for Families believes that New York State’s cyber sexual abuse law must establish the threat to distribute content as well as knowledge of content distribution (instead of only intent to harm) as criminal offenses.

If you or anyone you know is a victim of cyber sexual abuse, please reach out to Sanctuary for Families for legal assistance, clinical support, and other resources.

To get involved in our advocacy around cyber sexual abuse, please email Lindsey Song at lsong@sffny.org or Nicole Fidler at nfidler@sffny.org to join the citywide Cyber Sexual Abuse Task Force. The Task Force’s next meeting is on June 14 at 3:30 p.m. and meetings are held approximately every month and a half.

Recognizing Artemis Anninos: A Pillars of Change Honoree

Artemis is a 2018 Pillars of Change honoree.

It’s National Volunteer Recognition Week! Every day this week we’ll be highlighting a Sanctuary volunteer who will be honored at our Pillars of Change Volunteer Recognition Event on May 10th. Learn More and Register for Pillars of Change.

Artemis Anninos first heard of Sanctuary in 1991, when her roommate from college began working as a case worker.

“I was inspired by the dedication, commitment and compassion of the people who work at Sanctuary and the courage and resilience of the clients.”

A little over two decades later, Artemis took on a Sanctuary pro bono matter through her firm, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, LLP and has been working on pro bono matters and volunteering with Sanctuary ever since.

Currently, Artemis works as an interview prep volunteer, helping our clients conquer their anxieties about interviewing and developing a script regarding their professional narratives. This can be especially challenging for a group of clients that are working to build up confidence around their suitability for the professional space and careers.

Additionally, Artemis has played an integral role in math tutoring since we started offering it to Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) clients during the Office Operations Workshop (OOW), Sanctuary’s in-house job training program. More recently, she has assisted with high school equivalency (HSE) tutoring with our clients doing OOW and working on obtaining their HSE simultaneously.

“I am proud to be part of a team of volunteers that assist the Sanctuary staff in their mission to improve the future opportunities for Sanctuary clients,” she exclaims.

Artemis’ devotion to her clients and her work is not only evident in their successes, but also in the overall sense of determination and compassion that she exudes. According to her supervisor, Sarah Hayes, Deputy Director of the Economic Empowerment Program:

“Clients look forward to meeting with her and working on areas of knowledge that can bring up feelings of vulnerability – yet, and still, they leave sessions with her feeling good about math and their ability to conquer their challenges.”

Artemis has put in countless hours into helping Sanctuary’s clients. She stands as a “pillar” of consideration and professionalism to clients and staff alike. According to Artemis, all the work is worth it once she sees “the sense of accomplishment and pride in the students when they pass an exam or get a job.”

Pillars of Change is an opportunity to honor extraordinary volunteers like Artemis, who bring knowledge, compassion, and determination to our staff – and hope and opportunity to our clients.

We hope you will join us at Pillars of Change on May 10, 2018 to recognize Artemis and four other incredible volunteers for their service. You can join us at Pillars of Change by registering now!

Recognizing Jason Friedland and Shleppers Moving & Storage: A Pillars of Change Honoree

Jason is a 2018 Pillars of Change honoree.

It’s National Volunteer Recognition Week! Every day this week we’ll be highlighting a Sanctuary volunteer who will be honored at our Pillars of Change Volunteer Recognition Event on May 10th. Learn more and register for Pillars of Change.

Jason Friedland was introduced to Sanctuary in 2015 through Sanctuary Board Member Aliya Sahai. As CEO of Shleppers Moving & Storage, Jason oversees one of the most trusted and well-regarded moving companies in New York City.

Shelppers Moving & Storage is also well-known for their various charitable endeavors, supporting organizations such as United Way, March of Dimes, and the American Diabetes Association.

Aliya was aware of the company’s charitable activities and asked Jason, a close friend, if they could support Sanctuary’s Adopt-a-Family Program with pro bono moving services. Jason explains,

“I find that if you do exactly what Aliya wants you to do, it’s usually the smart choice. Also, I was happy to help.”

The Adopt-a-Family Program matches Sanctuary’s clients with donors who are able to fulfill their holiday ‘wish lists’. Through this program, Sanctuary currently serves over 400 adults and children each year with gifts that provide comfort and enjoyment during a time that can be difficult for many of our clients.

In addition to the Adopt-a-Family Program, Sanctuary also aims to provide each adult and child receiving services with at least one gift at the end of the year. Including the Adopt-a-Family Program, Sanctuary’s holiday giving drives support well over 1,000 individuals each year throughout New York City.

As the program has grown over the past several years, logistical challenges of delivering these gifts to families across four boroughs became apparent. For the past three years, Shleppers Moving & Storage has provided free moving services to seamlessly deliver thousands of gifts across New York City.

Sanctuary would not be able to reach so many clients during the busy holiday season without the support of Shleppers. Their efficiency, professionalism, and care have not gone unnoticed by Emily Lo Bue, Director of Corporate and Volunteer Relations:

“In addition to the logistical benefit of having a pro bono moving company support this program, the crews from Shleppers have consistently made this experience positive, efficient, and much less daunting. The crew members have always been prepared for anything, willing to go above and beyond, and completely respectful and sensitive to our needs.”

For Jason, the reason for participating in this program is simple:

“The more resources Sanctuary has available, the more it can fulfill its mission to help its clients and their children. It feels good to be able to help”

Thanks in no small part to Jason’s steadfast commitment to Sanctuary and the wider community, Shleppers has become an important partner to Sanctuary for Families.

Sanctuary’s staff and clients thank both Jason and his team at Shleppers for their generosity, the impact of which is felt far beyond the holiday season.

We hope you will join us at Pillars of Change on May 10, 2018 to recognize Jason and four other incredible volunteers for their service. You can join us at Pillars of Change by registering now!