Sexual Assault

When victims feel supported, they are more likely to engage with the criminal justice system

Image credit: AIPAC, screen grab, YouTube

On Thursday, Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington, D.C., introduced new legislation intended to expand the rights of people who have been sexually assaulted, particularly juveniles. The Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act of 2017, which amends the Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Act of 2014, also expands the definition of the actions that constitute a crime and clarifies who can be defined as a victim, including children as young as 12 years of age.

Introduced during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the legislation clarifies the right of a victim to compensation under existing insurance policies as well as the rights of victims when being provided emergency care.

“Through this legislation, we can ensure that every victim of sexual assault — no matter their background — is treated with fairness and dignity,” said Mayor Bowser.

The bill also provides children who have been assaulted with trained advocates. Currently, only adults are offered this necessary help with their trials and police investigations.

“I think this bill will contribute to more victims and survivors accessing help,” Michelle Garcia, director of the D.C. Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants told WaPo. “We know that when victims feel supported, they are more likely to engage with and stay engaged with the criminal justice system…. I think it will have a big impact in a number of ways.”

The Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Act of 2014 granted specific rights to survivors of sexual assault and defined a continuum of services for survivors of sexual assault. It also required the creation of a task force to study recognized best practices nationwide and to develop recommendations to enhance the city’s response to sexual assault.“

SAVRAA was passed by the D.C. Council in 2014 following a scathing 2013 Human Rights Watch report that revealed mishandling of numerous sexual assault cases by the Metropolitan Police Department. Although that report was flawed in some respects, according to an independent review commissioned by the Council, officials conceded that “in some cases, the investigation was admittedly inadequate.”

The newly proposed 2017 amendment to the 2014 law was primarily influenced by the recommendations of this task force, which strongly considered the bungled 2008 case of Danielle Hicks-Best—a young girl who, after telling police that she had been raped, was ultimately charged with lying to police. She was only 11 years old at the time.

Despite hospital reports detailing Hicks-Best’s injuries, she was the only one arrested in connection with the case. In 2014, police opened a new investigation into her rape.

“Anyone in the District of Columbia should feel confident that if they experience a sexual assault, they will be treated with compassion and respect when they come to MPD for help, and MPD will support them as their case proceeds through the criminal justice system,” said Acting Chief of Police Peter Newsham.

According to NBC Washington 4, the bill would also make it a crime—for the first time ever—to remove someone’s clothes without consent and would require prosecutors to provide their reasons for declining to pursue specific sexual assault cases.

Mayor Bowser told reporters that she had wanted to introduce the bill earlier this year but waited until now “to get law enforcement on board to advance this bill.” Acting Chief Newsham, her nominee for the position, stood by her at Thursday’s press conference.

– Danielle Bizzarro



Will we finally have a real conversation about sexual assault?

Image credit: Elvert Barnes, Flickr

CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Jessica Leeds yesterday. She is one of the two women who contacted The New York Times about their horrific experiences with Donald Trump. Both accused him of sexual assault, one 35 years ago (Jessica Leeds) and the other 11 years ago. I had read the NYT piece and watched the video. But seeing her with Anderson Cooper was different.

I was able to look in her eye. I saw and heard her pain. I knew it was real because I share it, because I live with it, as do so many other women.

I have probably forgotten more instances of being sexually assaulted than I remember. The ones that stand out include being grabbed on the streets of New York City. I remember standing on the corner of Park Avenue and 27th Street at 5 pm and having a man get on the ground and grab me around the legs. Another time I was walking down Prince Street and a man leaned into me as he walked by and grabbed my ass hard.

But as I sat there and watched the interview I started to remember other times of unwanted and unasked for groping and kissing: leaving a business meeting and being kissed when I offered my hand, fending off a business associate and sadly, a friend, as he tried to push me toward my bedroom; having to stand close to a pay phone as a man walked within one inch of me when there was no one else on the street at 9 p.m.

There are more, and I am sure in the coming days, they will pop into my consciousness. And as I sit here, contemplating all of these women who Trump has allegedly abused, I am trying to figure out how the parts of all of this come together. Walking down the street and being called “thunder thighs,” or “Hey baby how I would like to get between that!” or  “Can I get a kiss.” or  “Oooh, I’d love to fuck you.”

How do I, and every other woman, deal with this?  Where do we pack this away and now how do we unpack it?

How do we deal with the revelations that are coming to light and validating the awfulness, the terror that we have felt at unwanted advances and sexual assault?

Too often, we have felt that we are to blame, or worse, thought this is just our lot. Being degraded and assaulted, demeaned and diminished is part and parcel of being a woman. Very little has changed since I was in my twenties. Yes, women have accomplished much in very different career areas, but the fundamental relationship between women and men in this country has not.

Men assert their power through their physical and economic advantage. Women know that they have little recourse when a man asserts his physicality over them. They also know that they will be blamed, demeaned and called sluts when they talk about being assaulted. It is so clear when our courts give six months of jail time to a man who has been found guilty of rape that their experience, their distress, is meaningless. A young man’s future is still held in higher regard even when he has damaged a young woman forever.

Women know that this is their road. Mothers struggle with how to prepare their daughters.

Many Fathers are often in the dark, while some, as in the case of Donald Trump, are more than happy to have their daughters described as a nice “piece of ass.”

But for the first time in my life, this conversation is front and center. Woman are talking and being supported by other women and, in many cases, other men.  And sadly, this is because of the sexual predator that is running for president. Trump has clearly, through his own words, admitted and described women as things, sexual objects, as a part of humanity that doesn’t deserve the basic rights of freedom, equality, and respect. Donald Trump stands for everything that women are afraid of, everything that enrages us and causes us so much pain.

We struggle with our right to be sexual beings in a society that is populated with different versions of Trump.

And sadly, it is not just men who are perpetuating and encouraging this environment.  Some women, certainly his supporters,  believe that he is just being a man. They wear t-shirts to his rally that say “talk dirty to me.” They suggest that talk of his sexual assaults is just a media conspiracy. These are the people who are raising the men who feel they have the right to touch, kiss and grope without recourse. These women are blind and are a deep part of the problem.

Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a speech that gave me hope that this conversation will continue, that it won’t be lost after this election is over. But, I am old enough to realize how long and how much effort it will take until girls and women feel safe until we stop experiencing the terror of forcible touching, kissing and groping.

If for some reason Trump should become president, I have promised myself that I will not allow my daughters to grow up in a nation that has shown so little care for its daughters, mothers, sisters and wives.

-Jan Harrison


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