Q&A: Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention

Q: How are you working to improve support and services for victims of sexual assault?

 

A: As former chairman and current ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’m continuing my years long advocacy and leadership in the 117th Congress to help prevent sexual violence and ensure survivors of sexual assault and workplace harassment are empowered to seek justice and live their lives with dignity, hope, healing and recovery. In 2016, I steered the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act through Congress. It secured new protections for survivors of criminal sexual violence. The federal law provides that victims can’t be denied or charged for sexual assault exams; extends the time period to preserve forensic evidence; and, extends the length of time child survivors of human trafficking crimes may file suit against their perpetrators. In this Congress, I’m working with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to build upon the 2016 law with the Survivors’ Bill of Rights in the States Act. Our bipartisan bill would encourage states to apply the same standards across the country and expand resources for services and programs in rape crisis centers and sexual assault victim service providers in local communities across America. I’m also leading a bipartisan coalition with Sen. Dianne Feinstein to recognize April as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Our resolution assures survivors that we stand in solidarity with them, many of whom carry the stigma and trauma of harassment, abuse and assault in silence. As society continues to wipe away the perception of shame and embarrassment, we must continue to empower survivors to speak out and seek justice and ensure our criminal justice system has the tools to prevent and prosecute crimes of sexual violence. We must treat survivors with dignity and allow them to be heard and seek justice no matter where the trauma occurs, at home, in the workplace, online, college campuses or in the U.S. military.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five women experiences rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives. Nearly 44 percent of women and approximately one-quarter of all men experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetimes. That is a chilling statistic for every U.S. household to digest. It puts loved ones, friends, co-workers and neighbors in the victim pool. As a society, we must do more to keep our homes, streets and places of work safe and free from harassment. At the policymaking tables, I’ll continue my work to pave the way to justice, healing and recovery for survivors.

 

Q: What new changes in federal law allow survivors to have their day in court?

 

A: The Senate voted overwhelmingly to send landmark bipartisan legislation I co-sponsored to the president’s desk in February. The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act ensures survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault are no longer forced to seek justice behind closed doors in mandatory arbitration. This is a watershed moment for survivors whose voices have been muted for years in our system of justice. Forced arbitration clauses in the workplace are no longer valid. It will prevent perpetrators from abhorrent misconduct without facing public accountability. By taking away the ability for offenders to rinse and repeat their transgressions because of a secretive, biased process, the new law will serve as a deterrent effect and give survivors the opportunity to have their day in court to seek justice and accountability. For too long, forced arbitration clauses were buried in employment contracts, nursing home agreements and elsewhere. Our bill represents a shift in the public square and sends a message to repeat offenders. Workplace harassment and sexual assaults aren’t going to be swept under the rug.

 I applaud those who have courageously stepped forward to tell their story, including my friend and colleague Sen. Joni Ernst.  She teamed up with me and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to root out sexual violence in the U.S. military and change the status quo. Although I’m glad some of our measures were included in last year’s defense authorization bill, we will continue working to get our reforms that move sexual assault cases fully out of the chain of command to independent military prosecutors across the finish line. We must do much more to prevent sexual violence in the military and support our men and women in uniform to deliver the justice they deserve.

 

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Confidential, toll-free helplines are available 24/7 to report abuse. The Department of Defense Safe Hotline: (877) 995-5247. Iowa Victim Service Helpline: (800) 770-1650, Text IOWAHELP to 20121

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