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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Ami Wazlawik (DFL)

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COLUMN: Sexual Assault and Gender-Based Violence Have No Place in Minnesota

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The following column was published in the Hugo Citizen and White Bear Press on Tuesday, August 20: 

I’ve advocated for victims/survivors of sexual assault and gender-based violence for many years. I’ve worked with college-aged victims, helped get sexual assault response teams off the ground, and served on the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s Public Policy Committee. Now, as a legislator, I’m fighting for structural changes that help survivors get justice, protect children, and prevent these crimes from happening in the first place.

Closing legal loopholes that make it difficult for survivors to access justice is a top priority for me and many of my colleagues. One of the more abominable policies that we repealed this year was the marital rape exception, a law that shielded rapists from prosecution if they were married to their victim. We also eliminated an exception that permitted touching someone’s buttocks without consent. There are still loopholes and inconsistencies, so we established a working group to review Minnesota’s criminal sexual conduct statutes and recommend changes.

Other laws that we passed protect children and hold those who abuse them accountable. I introduced one of them, a law that establishes a 120 day look-back period for determining if an offender was in a position of authority. Previously, adults were only regarded as authority figures if they were directly responsible for the minor when the crime occurred. That meant that teachers and coaches weren’t considered authority figures if they were no longer teaching or coaching that student or if they assaulted the student over the summer. Another new law clarifies that sexual penetration isn’t required for a first degree criminal sexual conduct conviction if the victim is under the age of 13.

We took action to address the causes of gender-based crimes and prevent them from occurring in the first place. The newly established Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention Program takes a public health approach to these issues and provides grants to community-driven initiatives. New requirements for colleges and universities were established to protect students, who experience sexual assault and violence at disproportionate rates. Colleges must now include affirmative consent in their policies and incorporate it in student training programs.

While we made significant progress this year, there’s more work to be done to ensure that all Minnesotans are safe in their homes, workplaces, and communities. Next year, I hope to reform our state’s sexual harassment law. For many years, courts have used an unreasonable “severe or pervasive” standard in these cases. This high threshold often serves as a barrier to holding perpetrators and workplaces accountable.

I’m pleased that we secured affirmative consent education for college students, but many young people experience sexual assault before they set foot on a college campus. Students should receive age-appropriate instruction on respecting boundaries and forming healthy relationships throughout their K-12 education.

Many survivors, particularly those who are young when they’re assaulted, experience significant trauma after an assault and need time to process it. Sometimes the statute of limitations expires before they’re ready to come forward. That’s why I support eliminating the statute of limitations for criminal sexual conduct.

I’m also in favor of allowing legal termination of parental rights in cases where one parent is found to have conceived the child through rape or incest. No one should have to parent with someone who assaulted them.

I recently attended the groundbreaking for the first public memorial to honor survivors of sexual violence in the country. As I watched the ceremony, I thought about the survivors who’ve shared their stories with me over the years. Many of the laws that passed this year were inspired by Minnesotans who experienced sexual violence and didn’t get the justice they deserved. I’m so grateful to the individuals who’ve courageously advocated to change the system so others would not have to experience what they did. It’s an honor to fight alongside each and every one of them.

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