Proposals Advanced on Sexual Assault, Multicultural Education

March 3, 2020, 6:03 p.m. ·

Sen. Mike Groene debating Tuesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Survivors of sexual assault would have the right to have an advocate present in meetings with police, prosecutors or defense attorneys, under a bill advancing in the Legislature. And teaching about slavery, lynching, and racial massacres in America would be added to education requirements.

Sen. Kate Bolz sponsored the “Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act,” which would require hospitals or police to tell survivors their rights when the assault is reported. Bolz listed off those rights, most of which, she said, are already in existing law.

“The right to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect. The right to have an advocate present with them during examinations or interviews, the right to health care including a free forensic medical examination, the right to prompt analysis of DNA evidence, the right to be heard and participate in the criminal justice process. The right to notice about the status of the case, the right to be protected from threats of harm arising from their cooperation of law with law enforcement. You might think this sounds like common sense, but survivors under duress are often overwhelmed by the experience and by the reporting process,” Bolz said.

One new part of the proposal spells out the right to have an advocate present during interviews with police, prosecutors, or the defense attorney of the person accused. Sen. Justin Wayne, a defense attorney himself, said that part of the bill might actually help defense attorneys raise reasonable doubt at trial.

“If an advocate is there during the police investigation, obviously I get to imply to the jury that the advocate was called before the police showed up. So I get to imply that you talked to an advocate. And because (conversation with the) advocate is privileged, I don't get to go into what those questions were. So now I get to leave it up to a jury to figure that out. And typically when there's an unanswered question, it goes in the favor of defense counsel,” Wayne said.

Still, Wayne said he supports the intent of the bill and will work with Bolz to improve it. Bolz made a passionate argument for it. “This bill is about people who have been traumatized through sexual violence. This is a bill about people who have been hurt and victimized in the most egregious and personal way possible. This is about making sure that people who have been hurt understand what they can do about it and how they can help themselves,” she said.

The bill got first-round approval on a vote of 41-0.

Senators also gave first-round approval to a bill revising the state’s multicultural education requirements, but not without a fight. The Education Committee had endorsed requiring schools to teach students about the Holocaust and other genocides.

Sen. Ernie Chambers wanted to add slavery, lynching, and racial massacres in America to that requirement. Chambers used white people killing hundreds of blacks in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 as an example.

“This happened in America. And what Americans want to do is bury it and pretend it never happened. We as black people are aware, because it was passed down through generations and America who are presenting itself as the beacon of freedom must come to terms with its past,” Chambers said.

Sen. Mike Groene, chair of the Education Committee, objected to the idea, adding that not all white people were racist.

“There were people who were white, who were racist, who owned slaves. My ancestors never did. To include the entire group of different nationalities into one group as evil is just as wrong and biased as the claim every man who's black has the same traits. That is what we gotta stop in this country. It isn’t white and black and Asian. It’s America,” Groene said.

And Groene, whose ancestors were Irish and German, objected to listing examples of oppression to teach.

“Where do you stop with that list? In our heritage of all of us in the world history, there's been genocide on our families. There has been slavery on our ancestors. Who rowed the Roman boats chained to the oars? It was my ancestors,” he said.

Chambers pushed back.

“Sen. Groene has once again revealed his ignorance. There is no slavery that he can talk about where hundreds of thousands of people, even in the millions, were transported across the ocean from where they lived into America as has happened here,” he said.

Sen. Carol Blood supported Chambers against Groene’s argument.

In: We never have to understand what a person of color goes through. We can’t compare what happened to our European ancestors – ‘cause yes, pretty much everybody has a story about that in this body – to what’s going on with people of color. (Be)cause when you and I walk down the street, be you Italian, be you Czech, be you German, be you Irish, you’re still white,” Blood said.

Senators voted 34-3 to adopt Chambers’ amendment, then voted 37-0 to advance the bill itself.