COLUMN: Time for better sexual assault legislation

It is no secret that a sexual predator currently occupies the highest political office in this country.

However, while President Trump remains unpunished for his offenses, forthcoming legislation gives reason to hope sexual misconduct may soon be taken more seriously within the House and Senate.

Building off the momentum generated by the #MeToo trend made popular on Twitter last month and originally created by Tarana Burke in 2007, some members of Congress hope to use what has become a moment of national attention to fuel change. 

While legislation benefitting the public sphere is still essential, bills like the ones recently proposed are also necessary. They offer refreshing examples of dedicated public servants who deserve full support in a time of ever increasing national unrest. 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, each made separate announcements Friday of bills they said they hope will change the way the Hill handles harassment. 

Gillibrand, who has a history of campaigning for the reform of sexual assault policies, is stepping up for the cause once again with a well-founded bill. 

Provisions of the bill include: eliminating the 30-day period of mediation that is currently a prerequisite for simply filing a complaint, designating a position within the Office of Compliance to serve as a resource and advocating for victims and requiring interns to have access to all resources available to full-time staff. 

Given that mediation periods usually end in confidential settlements taken from a designated U.S. Treasury fund — rather than the office of the accused, as it should be — Gillibrand’s bill would enable reporting staffers to better pursue justice for themselves and expose their violators. 

Since this greater freedom to report comes with greater guidance under the Office of Compliance, interns, who are traditionally intimidated into thinking they will sabotage their careers, will be better protected in particular.

Speier has a history of advocacy as well, and her most recent bill requires annual anti-harassment training for all employees as well as the execution of a survey designed to capture the true scope of what she and others feel is a rampant issue. 

Training may at first seem unhelpful, but sexual misconduct can take many forms and a clear delineation of those forms can help either to discourage their execution or to guard against excuses of ignorance from accused parties. 

These bills are important and deserve implementation in some form, because, legislative action to reform sexual assault laws has been egregiously overdue for some time now. 

Watershed moments surrounding figures like Harvey Weinstein should not be necessary for our lawmakers to act on such a serious issue as sexual assault, but I am grateful in this instance that anything is happening at all. 

There is one important, though somewhat cliché, thing to remember as Congress moves forward with the consideration of these bills: public engagement. 

Midterm elections are coming up in November of 2018, and public discourse should absolutely make clear that senators and representatives wishing to gain or retain their seat need to support legislation such as that proposed by Gillibrand and Speier. 

It is absolutely time to move forward with such reforms and support them in whatever means possible, so let’s get going.

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