How Legislature can really tackle sexual harassment, assault

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Everyday, there is a new story of sexual harassment reported in the media. A movie producer. A well-respected actor. A beloved TV dad. A comedian turned statesman. A candidate, a lawmaker, the President, a lobbyist. The stories are horrific, terrifying and infuriating but what is surprising is the response – now, more than ever, women are being believed and swift action is being taken against many of the perpetrators. Many are viewing this a shift of monumental proportions, calling the disclosures a revolution. The floodgates have been opened and there is no closing them, and for many survivors, there is a catharsis in two simple words: me too.

New Mexico is not without stories of sexual harassment and assault, which has prompted lawmakers and advocates alike to call for an open dialogue and review of sexual harassment policies, particularly when it comes to lobbyists. A good start, for sure, but there is an entire state that exists beyond the Roundhouse, and if the Legislature is serious about addressing this epidemic, they must pass laws that benefit families across our state in order to truly curb and, eventually, end gender-based violence.

In their lifetime, one in four women will be a victim of violence. Most often, the violence is perpetrated by someone the victim knows – a partner or spouse, a co-worker or supervisor, a friend or family member. While New Mexico has very clear sexual assault statutes and there are rape crisis and domestic violence resource centers throughout the state, they are never fully funded. While untested rape kits dominated the news cycle for a few years, only 15% of survivors report a sexual assault – education-based prevention programs can go a long way in helping so many who cannot or will not report. Funding for prevention should be a priority for the state budget, not an afterthought.

For many, mostly women, the decision to stay with an abusive partner is based in economic need, especially if there are children involved. For the past eight years, the Senate Finance Committee has refused to allow a floor vote to allow a constitutional amendment that would use a small portion of the state land-grant permanent fund (less than 2 percent of the $16 BILLION fund) to fund early education for most families in the state. Access to safe, quality childcare is a priority for families, and having access would allow women to be able to leave their abuser and ensure that their children will be in a safe place.

Increasing the statewide minimum wage (vetoed by Governor Martinez in 2017 and 2013) would have a similar effect – increased pay would mean the difference, literally, between life and death (women in New Mexico are more likely to be killed by a partner than any other state). The ability to access paid sick leave would allow survivors to file for restraining orders, receive medical treatment and move to a safe place without the worry of missing wages, yet business coalitions and lawmakers fight this common sense ordinance without considering the impact on families who are barely making it.

Gender-based violence affects women across race and class lines, and although the first flood of women who spoke up have been mostly white and wealthy, we must remember that Indigenous and Women of Color, poor women and LGBTQ communities are those who are most often victimized and less likely to access services or receive any sort of justice for the crimes committed against them. Gender-based violence is far from being eradicated, but our lawmakers can pass laws that will, in fact, improve the living conditions of people who are being victimized by the people closest to them. The floodgates have opened, and it’s long past time to act. New Mexico lawmakers must pass a budget that benefits us, too.

 

Andrea J. Serrano is executive director of OLÉ, a nonprofit committed to grassroots organizing with working families in New Mexico. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the view or opinions of New Mexico In Depth.

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