What do you think of when it comes to politics and gender equality?
You might think of the back and forth arguments about abortion. Maybe you consider the fact that women hold less than 20% of the seats in congress at the federal level. Or perhaps you’d think of the many women that Obama has appointed to high-level political positions, such as Janet Yellen.
But what about in Washington State? What’s happening here?
Last week I attended the Legal Voice legislative wrap-up. Legal Voice is a Seattle Nonprofit that works to secure and protect women’s legal rights, and LGBT rights. One way they do this is to help change Washington State laws. At the June 3 event, lawyers Nancy Sapiro, David Ward, and Janet Chung, along with lobbyist Pam Crone spoke on their work on gender equality and LGBT rights in our legislature.
To start with, we’re in a pretty interesting situation in Washington, because we have a Republican majority in the senate, and a Democratic majority in the house. This means that “the only things that are ultimately going to be successful are the things you can gain bipartisan support on,” as Pam Crone explained.
There were some successes, such as HB1068, which ensures that sexual assault exam kits are sent to the state crime lab within 30 days. Until now, David Ward stated, “only 22 percent of Washington State rape kits collected were ever sent to the state crime lab.”
So, that means that until now, out of the small percentage of people who actually report rape, and the smaller percentage that get the 4-6 hour invasive procedure to create the rape kit, only 22 percent had their kits sent to the state crime lab. And even if they do make it to the crime lab, there is a backlog of over 1,000 kits.
But I digress.
Other big successes include the SB 5518 and SB 5719 campus sexual violence bills, which, state that “institutions must have a uniform process for all students including athletes and members of fraternities or sororities; creating a statewide public awareness campaign on the issue; and adopting confidentiality and reporting protocol as required by the federal Violence Against Women Act. The bill also requires schools to conduct a campus climate assessment.”*
Wait, so you mean that before, university sports stars and fraternities could be treated differently if they sexually assaulted someone? Somehow this doesn't completely surprise me. But I'm happy to see this law implemented. I’m curious to hear how my alma mater, Gonzaga University, implements this.
This is just a sampling of the bills that Legal Voice helped pass. See their website for a full list.
Unfortunately, many bills critical to gender equality in Washington did not pass this year. They still have a chance, because Washington State Legislative session isn’t over yet—it’s currently in it’s second special session. However, the legislature must agree on a budget by the end of June, or we’ll face a government shutdown, so many important issues are taking a backseat to budget negotiations. (See the bottom of the post for how you can help pass pending bills).
Bills that did not (yet) pass include ones like HB 1272, that makes it a crime to post pornography without the person’s consent. This is commonly known as “revenge porn,” because women (sometimes men) are victimized by ex-partners who post their intimate photos after a break up. As you can imagine, this can ruin lives.
Others include SB 5870, which would limit “'conversion therapy' on minors, a dangerous and discredited practice which seeks to change a patient's sexual orientation or gender identity; and…"aversion therapy" on minors, including procedures involving electrical shock, extreme temperatures, prolonged isolation, chemically induced nausea or vomiting, assault, or other procedures”*
In my opinion, I find it astonishing that the banning for conversion and aversion therapy, and making nonconsensual pornography a crime didn’t pass.
As Janet Chung put it “Sometimes in this business you do have to define success differently…and there is some good news here…It is common for bills to be introduced several years in the past before they do pass.”
Keep up the good work, Legal Voice! We’re cheering for you.
To see a current list of Legal Voice’s work in Washington State Legislature, see their Legislative Update page.
*“Legislative Updates: 2015 Washington Legislative Session,” Legal Voice, accessed June 10, 2015, http://www.legalvoice.org/news/Updates.html