Preventing the Next Sheldon Silver

Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York State Assembly, was arrested last week on federal corruption charges, sending shock waves through New York’s political circles. He is accused of accepting millions of dollars in disguised bribes for more than a decade. Silver allegedly asked developers with business before the state to spend money on a law firm that, in turn, paid Silver for legal work he never did. He was able to disguise the source of the income for so long because New York, like the vast majority of other states, considers its legislature to be “part time,” freeing up legislators to maintain legitimate outside jobs, as well as their government work.

Such outside payments are ripe for unscrupulous dealings (or, at very least, the appearance of impropriety), and have long been decried by anticorruption forces. Outside payments were a primary focus of Governor Cuomo’s anticorruption Moreland Commission, which the Governor then disbanded under pressure from legislators. Governor Cuomo recently proposed a new commission to look at ways to increase disclosure of outside income and to cap the amount of outside income legislators may receive. While Cuomo’s new proposals would be a good start, they do not go far enough. The time has come to ban outside legal work for state legislators and to compensate them fairly for the full time job the people elected them to do.

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Beyond Sextortion: How Corruption Uniquely Affects Women

A teenage girl at a refugee camp in Sierra Leone applies to the camp administrator for the food, soap, and medicine she’s entitled to and needs to survive. He falsely tells her that “your name is not on the list” but, instead of demanding money – the classic corruption scenario — he demands sex and she has no choice but to comply.

Corrupt sexual extortion (dubbed “sextortion” by the International Association of Women Judges) is not hypothetical and it is not rare. For example, a report from Human Rights Watch last September found that sexual exploitation by Burundian and Ugandan soldiers in Somalia is “routine and organized.” A refugee in Sierra Leone said “If you do not have a wife or a sister or a daughter to offer the NGO workers, it is hard to have access to aid.” Another refugee said “In this community no one can have access to CSM [a soya nutrient] without having sex first.” According to Transparency International, “the perception that women do not have the money to pay bribes may mean that they are not asked for payments… Instead, compensation may take the form of sexual favours.” This corrupt sexual exploitation often has a far greater adverse effect on victims than monetary corruption, not only because of the act itself–which can be extremely violent and is always a violation of personal dignity and human rights–but also because of the possibility of disease, pregnancy, and, all too frequently, social ostracization, victim blaming, and loss of prospects in the marriage market.

Yet despite occasional references to corrupt sexual exploitation by anticorruption activists, most major anticorruption groups have neglected this topic, focusing instead on monetary corruption. This is a mistake. The anticorruption community should recognize sextortion and other forms of corrupt sexual coercion as a distinctive and devastating form of corruption, deserving of special attention and appropriately-tailored responses. Continue reading