Sexual violence, domestic violence and human trafficking impact thousands of Connecticut residents each year. And yet, many of our state laws remain antiquated, while other protections are simply non-existent. Culturally, we have come far in our understanding of gender-based violence, but our policies must keep pace.
The Judiciary Committee is considering several pieces of legislation. While I support these bills, as with most legislation there is room for improvement. We must pass laws that offer true and comprehensive protection for survivors of gender-based violence.
At just five years, Connecticut has one of the shortest and most outdated statute of limitations in the country. We understand how trauma, shame, and blame can cause victims to delay coming forward, and yet the current law contradicts this understanding. The Judiciary Committee has reviewed two proposals; one which moves Connecticut forward and one which only offers more of the same. Connecticut should eliminate the statute of limitations in both civil and criminal sexual assault crimes. If Connecticut merely extends the statute of limitations from five to ten years, we continue to ignore how victims experience sexual violence. Even with a full elimination, those accusing someone of sexual violence will still need to prove their case, but those with a case will actually have an opportunity for justice.
The Judiciary Committee should also repeal another antiquated law. In the early 1980s, then seen as progressive, Connecticut passed a marital rape law. Before this law was enacted, a woman couldn’t legally be raped if she was married or dating someone. Now, nearly 40 years later, Connecticut’s “marital rape” law denies victims of sexual violence from certain protections based on their relationship to an offender. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 51.1 percent of females report being sexually assaulted by an intimate partner. We don’t need a separate law. All victims of sexual violence should have equal protections regardless of who sexually assaults them.
The way we treat offenders also needs updating. The Judiciary Committee is reviewing a proposal to enact the recommendations of the Connecticut Sentencing Commission which will make Connecticut’s sex offender registry a risk-based registry. It is strongly believed that to be most effective a registry should consist of only those individuals who are a true public threat; which also means we need to evaluate who is considered a risk. Currently, Connecticut doesn’t require those convicted of sex trafficking to register. While a relatively new crime in terms of our understanding, the state must consider sex trafficking when making improvements to the sex offender registry.
Although not a new crime, our understanding of sex trafficking is continuing to expand and as it does our approach toward victims and offenders must do the same. The Judiciary Committee is considering a bill to improve protections for victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. There are youths from Connecticut who are sexually victimized in Connecticut. The proposal includes updates to the crime, Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor. This law was established in 2016 to address the epidemic of commercial sexual exploitation which is estimated to impact as many as 325,000 children a year nationwide. The current law limits this crime to an exchange of sex for a fee. We know that in Connecticut adults are exchanging drugs or housing with a youth for sex. They too should be charged with commercial sexual abuse of a minor. Connecticut law must reflect that.
As we continue to build our understanding of the various types of gender-based violence we also need to recognize how various populations are impacted. Individuals with disabilities are seven times more likely to experience sexual violence than those without disabilities. The Judiciary Committee is considering two bills which offer increased protections for individuals with disabilities. The committee should also consider the recommendations made by advocates to support people with intellectual disabilities seeking justice in court. Modeled after Pennsylvania legislation, Connecticut should establish circumstances in which a person with intellectual or developmental disabilities can have a statement they made outside of the courtroom be admissible. This change in law can go a long way to providing much needed support to victims.
At its most basic level, lawmakers should be looking for ways to make victims of gender-based violence feel safe, believed and protected. The Judiciary Committee is considering a common sense housing protection for survivors of family violence or sexual assault that requires landlords to change a tenant’s lock with proof of a protective order, restraining order or foreign order of protection. Sexual violence, domestic violence, and human trafficking not only threaten your sense of emotional well-being, but also your feeling of physical safety. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 52 percent of all sexual assaults occur where victims live.
With these bills before the Judiciary Committee, Connecticut has an opportunity to have our laws match our cultural understanding of gender-based violence. Connecticut must listen to and stand with survivors.
State Rep. Jillian Gilchrest represents West Hartford’s 18th Assembly District.
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