"Since this is an election year, our goal here today is to give you a voice because policies do matter and your vote counts," said Dr. Glendscene Williams associate professor of finance and president of the Cleveland Branch chapter of AAUW.
Williams noted that the topics for the panel discussion were chosen due to October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“This campaign is dedicated to training women to run for student government and to later run for elective offices after college," said Williams. "Women issues cannot be ignored, and the public needs to know how their elected officials voted on these issues.”
"An informed and involved citizenry is essential to democracy and to our society," said Ann Lotven, Delta State provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. "One of the primary missions of any institute of higher education, and specifically here at Delta State University, is to provide educational opportunities to assist individuals in expanding and broadening their knowledge and understanding of key issues that impact members of our society."
The guest panel consisted of Attorney Sayward Fortner, a law clerk for U.S. Magistrate Judge Jane M. Virden in the United States District Court in Greenville, District Attorney for the 11th Circuit Court District of Mississippi Brenda Mitchell and County Court Judge Gwendolyn Thomas.
According to its national Web site, the AAUW empowers women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.
The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization has more than 150,000 members and supporters across the United States, as well as 1,000 local branches and 700 college and university partners.
Fortner began the forum with the difficult task of explaining the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
"The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act came as a result of a court case, which made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court; Ledbetter vs. Goodyear," said Fortner.
"Ledbetter was employed by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company from 1979 until 1998. After retiring in 1998, she filed a claim against Goodyear under Title VII, or the federal discrimination statute, alleging that she had been denied pay raises a number of times during her employment because of sexual discrimination," Fortner continued. "During the trial, she argued that she was earning significantly less than her male counterparts at the end of her time with the company."
At trial, the jury found in Ledbetter's favor and awarded her back pay and other damages. Goodyear then appealed the case on the basis that Title VII requires claims to be made within a few months after alleged discrimination occurs and Ledbetter did not show that any discrimination occurred during this period before she made her claim. In response, Ledbetter argued that each lower paycheck she received was discriminatory because it reflected the company's past discriminatory actions.
The case ultimately reached the Supreme Court, which found in a four to five decision in 2007 that Ledbetter's claim was untimely under Title VII. However, Congress did not agree with the Supreme Court's interpretation of Title VII, so it passed the act in direct response to, and for the purpose of reversing, the Supreme Court's decision.
The act would allow Ledbetter to make a claim against Goodyear for discrimination resulting in unequal pay so long as she made the claim within a few months after receiving her last paycheck with the unequal pay. The act is retroactive to May 28, 2007, meaning it would include any illegal employment practice that occurred before May 2007 if it resulted in lower pay or poorer benefits the employee was still receiving as of May 28, 2007.
"What the act does is extend the statute of limitations to file a complaint," said Fortner.
Mitchell spoke on campus violence.
"On college campuses across the nation, campus violence is on the rise," said Mitchell. "Campus violence can take many forms such as murder, robbery, aggravated assaults and sexual assaults."
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, there were seven reported forcible sex offenses, eight non-forced sex offenses, 19 robberies, 23 aggravated assaults, 379 burglaries, 34 motor vehicle thefts and 18 arson cases on Mississippi higher education campuses in 2010.
"Fortunately here at Delta State we don’t see many violent crimes reported on our campus," said Mitchell. "However, we know that a lot more of these crimes are occurring and are not being reported."
Mitchell said that one reason that a lot of these crimes go unreported is because of the stigma that is placed on the victims.
"Statistics show that 84 percent of women who report being raped know their attackers," she said. "Of that number, 57 percent of these attacks happen when these people are out on dates. These are alarming numbers."
Following Mitchell, Thomas discussed domestic violence.
Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering, family violence, and intimate partner violence, is defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors by one partner against another in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family, or cohabitation.
"One thing you need to understand about domestic violence is that it is a power game for the abusive party," said Thomas. "They don’t care if the crime is reported because, previously, many times accusations were not taken very seriously."
According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, one in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend to three million women who are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year.
Thomas said that women, ages 20-24, are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence. She also pointed out that in the past, victims of domestic abuse had to file charges against their abusers before arrest could be made, but that is not the case any longer.
"It is now common practice for law enforcement to make arrests and file charges when there is evidence that an abuse has taken place," she said.
Thomas spoke about the lack of facilities or 'safe houses' for victims of domestic violence in Bolivar County before a brief Q&A session with panel.