People Do Change
On May 14, 1985, in Gary, Ind., four teenage girls killed Ruth Pelke, a 78-year-old Bible teacher, stabbing her 33 times while they ransacked the house for cash and jewelry and then stole her car. Three of the four were convicted of murder; one was pregnant, another a young mother. Paula Cooper, 15 when the murder happened, was identified as the main culprit, pled guilty with no plea deal and was sentenced to death.
Indiana legislators later changed the law to make 16 the minimum age for a death penalty but wrote the law to exclude Ms. Cooper. In 1989 the Indiana Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute someone under 16 and commuted Ms. Cooper’s sentence to 60 years. Then Ms. Cooper, whose young life had been a hellish net of abuse, including a near murder within her own family, saw her world change. Roman Catholic groups, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and European political organizations made her a symbol of the anti-death-penalty movement. An Italian group gave the United Nations a petition with a million signatures, and in 1987 Pope John Paul II made a plea on her behalf.
Meanwhile, Ms. Cooper earned high school and college degrees, and the Rockville Correctional Facility made her a cook. Bill Pelke, the victim’s grandson, became her principal champion. He explained to the local press, “We’re supposed to hate the sin but love the sinner.” On June 17 Paula Cooper, now 43, was freed from prison, ready to begin her new life. “I just hope that people give me a chance out there,” she said, “because people do change.”
“When I was a lad I served a term/ As office boy in an attorney’s firm./ I cleaned the windows and scrubbed the floor,/ And polished up the handle on a big front door./ I polished up the handle so care-full-ee/ That now I am the ruler of the Queen’s Na-vee!”
Internships have come a long way since the days of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.” But far enough? Most internships employ students for a short period of time in business, government, journalism, law or other fields to help prepare them for the job world they hope to enter. They also allow the student to ask, “Do I really want to do this the rest of my life?” and the company to ask, “Might we want to hold onto this young person?”
Interns commonly complain about being assigned meaningless tasks; they stuff envelopes, answer phone calls, get the coffee. Or they learn only general workplace skills like showing up on time, which they could learn doing menial labor for a salary.
Recently several interns sued Fox Searchlight Pictures because they were underpaid or not paid at all. The court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor and said that Fox must remunerate its interns. Fox plans to appeal the decision. The Fair Labor Standards Act stipulates that unpaid internships must be for the benefit of the intern, not the company. Internships must serve as an educational opportunity, including close supervision.
Many universities offer academic internships, ideally an intellectual-work experience, where the student receives course credit and the university has ethical obligations. In these cases, a professor should closely cooperate with the employer and monitor the assignments, which would include research, reflection, written work and evaluation. After all, this young man or woman may someday be “a ruler in the Queen’s Navy.”
In today’s social media-savvy culture, it is not uncommon to know exactly what one’s friends are up to at any given moment. For some young women, however, this can be dangerous. Experts say many young women are at risk of ignoring early warning signs of an abusive relationship, because they brush off a partner’s constant texts or inquiries into their whereabouts as part of current social norms.
In a speech earlier this year announcing the Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Demonstration Initiative, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. stated that “on average, three women are murdered every day in this country by a boyfriend, husband, or ex-husband.” Safe Horizons, a victims’ services agency, reports that “women ages 20 to 24 are at greatest risk of becoming victims of domestic violence.” These women also face the pressures of what many call the hookup culture, in which young adults forgo committed relationships for casual encounters. Experts argue that many women ignore signs of abusive behavior and are unwilling to seek outside help because they believe that if a relationship isn’t serious, the potential for abuse isn’t either. However, relationship status does not define abuse, and young women should not have to tolerate unwanted advances and jealous, obsessive behavior, online or in person.
Many domestic violence cases covered by the media focus largely on the abusers, at times using language that sensationalizes such actions; it is important to remember that it is the victims who need our attention.