Haskell: New law strengthens sexual assault laws
In January, I was proud to co-sponsor and help pass the Time’s Up Act. This law extends the time limit for prosecuting sexual assault and requires expanded sexual harassment training at work. Most importantly, it will give survivors of sexual assault a greater opportunity to pursue justice in our courts. On Oct. 1, it became law.
Before Tuesday, Connecticut had one of the shortest statutes of limitations in the country for rape of an adult. Only two states had shorter limits. Unacceptably, rape victims were unable to pursue justice in a criminal court more than five years after the attack occurred. Although longer limits were available if DNA evidence was immediately collected by officials, the majority of victims do not report, and certainly not immediately.
This antiquated criminal code denied justice to survivors and discouraged many from sharing their story before a judge or jury. Now, we’ve extended the statute of limitations for rape and other sexual assault crimes to 20 years when the victim is an adult. If the victim is between 18 and 20, the state can bring charges up until the victim’s 51st birthday. Whereas many sexual assault crimes against children had no statute of limitations, the Act eliminated the limit for any and all forms of sexual assault committed against those under 18. This Act is a key step in providing the necessary time and space for survivors to process their pain and later tell their story.
The legal and financial intimidation that followed the Me Too movement illustrates why survivors of sexual violence often do not share their story until they are afforded a safe and supportive environment in which to do so. Sadly, many survivors will wait years before openly discussing the trauma and pain they experienced. Economic pressures, abusive relationships, and a structural imbalance of power are very real factors which force women to suffer in silence. Extending the statute of limitations allows survivors to share their stories on their own terms.
It is necessary to note this bill is about more than punishment — it’s also about prevention. Sexual harassment drives many women out of the workforce, while those who can’t afford to quit their job are forced to endure persistent provocation from bosses or co-workers. Educating workers about the signs of sexual harassment empowers survivors and witnesses alike to report sexual misconduct and creates a safe working environment.
That’s why we’ve made sexual harassment prevention training mandatory in the vast majority of Connecticut workplaces. Plus, the State Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities now provides free online training resources, which means employers won’t need to purchase expensive new programs to bring their employees up to speed on how to deal with issues of sexual harassment while at work.
We know this law will not bring sexual misconduct to an end, but I’m proud to live in a state that hears the voices of survivors and invites them to seek justice in a court of law. I’m proud to live in a state that will ensure that twenty-first century workplaces are free of harassment and sexual intimidation. As this new law finally goes into effect, I’m grateful for the voices of brave survivors who pushed so hard for the basic right to feel safe as they go about their lives. In short, Connecticut is made stronger by the Time’s Up Act.
The Me Too movement has shed light on gut-wrenching stories of abuse and harassment. We need to recognize the incredible weight of what has happened to so many. At the same time, we should be haunted by what did not happen. By what jobs survivors could not bear to stay at, what presentations they did not give, projects they did not spearhead, promotions they did not get, boardrooms they did not run. The violence of sexual harassment is incredibly personal, but it is structural as well: it drives people from the workplace, stunts careers, and stymies opportunities. It perpetuates power structures that need to be broken down. The Time’s Up Act is not, and cannot be, a cure-all for such a pervasive a problem. But it is a step toward redress for the individual survivor, and a step toward reform for the workplaces they occupy.