As women enter elected office, share their experiences via #MeToo, and take to the streets, we are changing a patriarchal culture in which sexual violence and harassment have run rampant. Culture change is important, but it must be accompanied by changes in law. Women hold more power than ever before in U.S. history. Now, we must use this power to uncover and destroy harmful policies rooted in patriarchy to take us beyond #MeToo to #NeverAgain. This is why one of my first acts as a freshman legislator was to co-sponsor S.B. 3, An Act Concerning Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment.
Sexual violence is a blatant manifestation of sexism. Historically, our culture and our laws have treated violence perpetrated against women as inevitable. This tragic and wrong assumption places the onus on women to protect themselves or to prevent violence.
In recent years, we have grown significantly in our understanding of how trauma, shame, and blame can cause victims to delay coming forward. And yet, laws lag behind. Many states, including Connecticut, have a statute of limitations that prevents victims of sexual violence from obtaining justice as well as contradicts our cultural understanding of this crime.
The sexism is so insidious that we often accept sexist policies as common practice.
During my campaign for state representative I experienced two incidents of sexual harassment. Both exemplify just how deep the problem goes. The first was a Facebook “hate page” about me. It lied about my work to prevent and address sex trafficking, used unflattering pictures of me, and suggested I was naked in a video. The page’s administrator was anonymous. Though the posts were disturbing, they weren’t threatening enough to warrant police involvement.
Under the current policy, there is no recourse for harassment via an anonymous Facebook page until a threat is made. Waiting for harassment to escalate isn’t a tool designed to protect women. It’s endorsing a culture in which violence against women is the norm.
In the second incident a man wrote me a disturbing email in which he asked me to “hook him up” with a victim of sex trafficking. If I didn’t oblige, he threatened to kill himself or take others with him. These threats raised a huge red flag. The majority of mass shootings are committed by men who disdain women and have a history of domestic and sexual violence. I reported the email to the police. And they used every tool at their disposal to respond. They sent him for a medical evaluation and arrested him for breach of peace. Considering what we know about the continuum of violence, this simply wasn’t enough.
I don’t fault the police. I fault our policies.
Earlier this month I was sworn into office, joining the largest group of women in elected office at the Connecticut General Assembly and in this country. We, as women, must use our new power to enact policies that move our cultural forward, hold offenders accountable, and prevent sexual violence and harassment. We must continue to change the culture. Equally important, we must also change the law. S.B. 3, An Act Concerning Sexual Assault and Harassment is a good start.
State Representative Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, represents the 18th House District.
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