Laura L. Dunn: It's time for the law to protect victims of gender violence



在MeToo运动的浪潮中,《大小谎言》Laura Dern 在75届金球奖颁奖典礼上说过“我们中的很多人从小被教育说,很多事情不要讲出来。我希望大家不要单单做到支持那些事情的受害者......我们还要保护他们。让我们教育自己的孩子,让他们勇于发声,不用担心被惩罚,这会是我们文化环境中的新北极星。”


Throughout the United States, there is growing social awareness that sexual violence and harassment are far too common occurrences within our various institutions -- occurrences often without any accountability.

As a result, the Me Too movement is upon us, and survivors everywhere are speaking out to demand change.

Students have rallied against sexual assault on campus.

Service members have demanded Congress reform the military, and workers ranging from Hollywood stars to janitorial staff have called out sexual harassment in the workplace.

This is a tipping point.

This is when a social movement can create lasting legal change.

But only if we switch tactics.

Instead of going institution by institution, fighting for reform, it's time to go to the Constitution.

As it stands, the US Constitution denies fundamental protections to victims of gender violence such as sexual assault, intimate partner violence and stalking.

Specifically, the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits state governments from abusing its citizens, does not require state governments to intervene when private parties abuse its citizens.

So what does that mean in real life?

That means that when a woman calls the police from her home, afraid that an intruder may attack her, she is not entitled to the state's protection.

Not only can the police fail to respond, but she will be left without any legal remedy if preventable harm occurs as a result.

How can this be?

It is because the state, theoretically, acts on behalf of all citizens collectively, not any one citizen individually.

The resulting constitutional flaw directly contradicts international law, which requires nation-states to intervene and protect citizens against gender violence by private parties as a human right.

Instead of requiring intervention, our Constitution leaves discretion -- discretion that states have used to discriminate systemically to deny countless victims any remedy.

Unlike what you may have seen on " Law & Order: SVU, " justice is rare for victims of gender violence.

And even in those rare cases where law enforcement has chosen to act, victims have no rights during the resulting criminal process.

You see, victims are not parties in a criminal case.

Rather, they are witnesses; their bodies, evidence.

The prosecution does not represent the interests of a victim.

Rather, the prosecution represents the interests of the state.

And the state has the discretion to dismiss criminal charges, enter lax plea deals and otherwise remove a victim's voice from the process, because again, a state theoretically represents the interests of all citizens collectively and not any one citizen individually.

Despite this constitutional flaw, some victims of gender violence have found protections under federal Civil Rights statutes, such as Title IX.

Title IX is not just about sports.

Rather, it prohibits all forms of sex discrimination, including sexual violence and harassment within educational programs that accept federal funding.

While initially targeting sex discrimination within admissions, Title IX has actually evolved over time to require educational institutions to intervene and address gender violence when committed by certain parties, such as when teachers, students or campus visitors commit sexual assault or harassment.

So what this means is that through Title IX, those who seek access to education are protected against gender violence in a way that otherwise does not exist under the law.

It is Title IX that requires educational institutions to take reports of gender violence seriously, or to suffer liability.

And through campus-level proceedings, Title IX goes so far as to give victims equitable rights during the campus process, which means that victims can represent their own interests during proceedings, rather than relying on educational institutions to do so.

And that's really important, because educational institutions have historically swept gender violence under the rug, much like our criminal justice system does today.

So while Civil Rights protects some victims, we should want to protect all victims.

Rather than going institution by institution, fighting for reform on campus, in the military, in the workplace, it's time to go to the Constitution and pass the Equal Rights Amendment.

Originally proposed in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment would guarantee gender equality under the law, and much like Title IX on campus, that constitutional amendment could require states to intervene and address gender violence as a prohibitive form of sex discrimination.

While the Equal Rights Amendment did not pass in the 1970s, it actually came within three states of doing so.

And within the last year, at least one of those states has ratified the amendment, because we live in different political times.

From the Women's March to the Me Too movement, we have the growing political will of the people necessary to create lasting, legal change.

So as a victims' rights attorney fighting to increase the prospect of justice for survivors across the country and as a survivor myself, I'm not here to say, " Time's Up."

I'm here to say, " It's time."

It's time for accountability to become the norm after gender violence.

It's time to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, so that our legal system can become a system of justice, and #MeToo can finally become " no more."

Thank you.