Sexual harassment and assault have affected many women, including a couple of Minnesota lawmakers sponsoring bills and now sharing their stories. Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL-New Brighton) says that, when she watched the Supreme Court hearings for Justice Kavanaugh, she felt empowered to talk about her own experience. “I can say that happened to me. This is probably the first time I’ve ever told anyone outside my family about that,” she says. When she was in college, she experienced another attempted sexual assault when someone entered an apartment and tried to violate her. That time, she fought back and pushed the man away.
Rep. Marion O’Neill (R-Maple Lake) has worked on sexual violence issues at the Capitol for years, and she reveals her own story, “It was in a work environment, I had a very aggressive boss and I was in vulnerable position.” O’Neill was not included in a press conference that Democrats held to highlight the week of hearings on bipartisan proposals. She said she was “offended that I was excluded. Stopping sexual violence is not a partisan issue.” DFL Chair Carlos Mariani responded with an apology, “I welcome the new era of bipartisan expectation and will strive to change my communication habits to meet it.”
Meanwhile Rep. Mariani’s Public Safety Committee heard days of difficult, emotional testimony from victims and their families. Misty Babineau shared, “I was kidnapped, held and raped.” Mary Lyons added, “My younger sister was murdered.” Through tears, Dolly Boswell spoke about her sister, who has since passed away, “I tried to report her missing. They said I have to wait 48 hours.”
Rep. Kunesh-Podein summarized, “It’s been an incredibly emotional week, not just for myself, but for a lot of people.” The lawmaker, who descends from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, is sponsoring a bill to establish a task force to address the many missing and murdered indigenous women in Minnesota. She is also sponsoring the “Buttocks Bill” that would make it a crime to grab a person’s buttocks over clothing.
Another bill would criminalize being raped by your spouse. Freshman Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids) called existing law, “A relic from a time when a woman was the property of her husband.” Another first-term lawmaker, Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview), is chief author of a measure requiring law enforcement to adopt new policies after a Star Tribune newspaper investigation showed a shocking lack of investigations and prosecutions: “All survivors of sexual violence deserve justice no matter where they live in Minnesota.”
Called “Hannah’s Law,” Rep. O’Neill’s effort “is focused on that 13- to 16-year-old victim.” The law’s namesake is for a 13-year-old girl who was the victim of multiple rapes. The bill is five parts and it’s complicated, but, she says, “I love not doing the easy stuff. That’s why I’m here. I love to take on the things people say we can’t do.” Democrats now have control of the House, and many newer lawmakers are leading these efforts to address sexual violence. Second-term lawmaker Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville) concluded, “The time is finally here for us to move forward on this.”