Taxless time of month: Governor signs bill exempting menstrual hygiene products from sales tax

April 13th, 2020|

From The Daily UW

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with Washington state’s unemployment claims rivaling the number seen in the 2008/2009 recession, every cent counts at the grocery store. Now, about half of the state population can rest a bit easier when it comes to their next round of errands.

We’re talking about menstrual products — tampons, pads, cups, and similar items. Last Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee signed SB 5147, which will provide “tax relief by exempting menstrual products from retail sales and use tax.”

The bill, effective July 1, will make Washington the 18th state to exempt menstrual products from retail taxes. The bill was unanimously passed by the State Senate on March 7. Three days later, the House of Representatives approved the bill in a 95–2 vote.

“This is great news for the women of Washington who now will get to keep the more than 3 million dollars they’ve been paying in tax each year on medically necessary products,” Sen. Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver) said in a press release.

Wilson has worked on this bill for years, first introducing the idea in 2016 when she served in the House and then in the Senate the next year. The main drive for this bill was to combat the discriminatory assumption that menstrual products are not essential. To put this in perspective, male-marketed products like Viagra are not taxed.

The inclusion of menstrual products in the retail tax also puts those who are financially compromised at risk. With 14.3% of Washingtonians ages 0–17 and 10.6% of Washingtonians ages 18–64 living below the poverty line, those who menstruate are put under further hardship.

“When there’s a surplus of 1.5 billion dollars, it’s hard for anyone to justify continuing a tax as discriminatory as this,” Wilson said in the press release. “It’s especially unfair to women who are low-income or experiencing homelessness, and all the work on this bill has been worth it for their sake alone.”

While Wilson pushed the bill through the Senate, much of the driving force behind the movement came from the Washington Tampon Tax Task Force, which is part of the menstrual rights advocacy group PERIOD.

“I think it’s symbolic,” task force member Reem Sabha said. “When you’re taxing something that is essential for … half the population, it sends a message that that bodily function is … something to be ashamed of.”

In between classes this year, Sabha, a graduate student at the UW, along with undergrad Dena Sabha and Kamiak high school students Jinyang Zhang and Ramya Arumilli, called and emailed senators, wrote letters, and sent out petitions.

A key part of the bill’s success was adapting to the preferences of different senators. In 2019, the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee supported SB 5147, but the Ways & Means Committee opposed it until state revenue projections increased.

“We got a lot of support from both parties,” Sabha said. “With more Republican legislators, if we framed it as a tax repeal, making the tax code less regressive, it was a very compelling argument for them.”

While the exemption of menstrual products from sales tax is a major step toward gender equity in Washington state, the Tampon Tax Task Force is already working on its next plan.

“I think we’re all really excited on the passing [of the bill],” Zhang said. “But now that that excitement has faded and we’re moving into the next legislative session, we’re planning on working on the bill SB 6073.”

This bill aims to provide free menstrual products in public school bathrooms. Although it gained traction in the Senate, it has yet to pass in the House. Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) will introduce the bill in the next session.

In the meantime, the Tampon Tax Task Force continues to raise awareness for menstrual equity through a petition, urging senators to pass both bills by 2021.

“There are still 30 other states that still tax menstrual products,” Sabha said. “So we’re hoping that Washington repealing [the tax] will provide more of an impetus for other states to repeal it as well.”

By Nicole Pasia

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    Washington Senate Narrowly Passes Gun Violence Prevention Bill Sponsored by Indian American State Senator Manka Dhingra

Washington Senate Narrowly Passes Gun Violence Prevention Bill Sponsored by Indian American State Senator Manka Dhingra

March 25th, 2020|

From India-West

On a narrow 25-24 vote, the Washington state Senate March 10 passed a seminal gun violence prevention bill, sponsored by Indian American state Senator Manka Dhingra.

“The bill takes a data-centered approach to addressing the epidemic of gun violence,” Dhingra, the first Indian American to be elected to the Washington state Legislature, told India-West. She noted that the bill was passed on a partisan vote: Democrats, who control the Legislature, voted for the bill, while Republicans did not. Dhingra said similar partisanship has stalled comprehensive gun control legislation in state legislatures across the nation and at the federal level.

Dhingra also serves as deputy prosecuting attorney for Kings County, Washington, and said the bill was born out of her experience at the prosecutor’s office. Every year, 155 King County residents die from gunshots and another 150 are hospitalized.

“We have to have a public health approach to addressing gun violence,” she stated, noting that the Centers for Disease Control is currently banned from collecting data on gun violence and conducting research on the issue.

The bill, SB 6288, passed the Washington state House March 5 on a 53-44 vote. It must now be signed by the president of the state Senate, and the Speaker of the state House before it moves on to Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s desk for approval. Dhingra said the governor has expressed his support for the measure.

Dhingra’s bill would establish the Washington Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention, which would work with law enforcement agencies and others to collect and centralize data on firearm violence, including suicide. The office would make the data available for public health research.

Additionally, the new office would administer the Washington Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program, funding initiatives that seek to end the epidemic of gun violence.

One of the initiatives the new office would fund is Choose 180, a restorative justice program designed to help young offenders re-direct themselves away from a life of criminal activity. The program diverts young people away from incarceration; they are typically paired with an older mentor, often someone who has been through the criminal justice system. Volunteers also help teen offenders talk about the struggles they have experienced in their lives which may have led them to criminal behavior.

Dhingra also hopes to fund programs that allow law enforcement to engage with communities of color to provide mentor-ship.

The bill would also create an initiative aiming to address PTSD for victims of violence and also for those who have observed it. These mental health treatment measures were developed by Washington state Senator David Frockt, a Democrat, who proposed the treatment initiative in a bill earlier this year, which did not pass the state Senate.

“The effects of firearm violence on survivors’ mental health can be devastating and long-lasting. We as a state, as a community, need to be doing all that we can to help survivors deal with the trauma, and that’s what this legislation will do,” said Frockt, in a statement released by Dhingra’s office.

“In the Legislature, we have been taking meaningful steps to transform our criminal justice system from a crisis response model to an early intervention and prevention model,” Dhingra said in the statement. “This bill is an important addition to that work.”

By Sunita Sohrabji

Senate passes nation’s first statewide Office of Equity

March 8th, 2020|

From the Suburban Times

On Wednesday, March 5, the Washington state Senate passed House Bill 1783 to reduce systemic disparities in Washington state government. The bill would establish the nation’s first statewide Office of Equity within the Governor’s Office.

“This is about bringing equality for all to every community in Washington,” said Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-SeaTac), who sponsored the legislation. “Inequities impacting historically marginalized people run deep and they come at far too great a social and economic cost.”

While many state agencies in Washington are engaged in methods to reduce systemic inequities, those efforts are not currently coordinated at the state level. This leaves agencies to individually face the same challenges in developing, sharing, and implementing resources to address this issue.

The Office of Equity would streamline this process by recommending best practices and by providing assistance for implementation and training.

“Disparities in Black and African American communities exist due to the way systems were formed,” said Rep. Melanie Morgan (D-Parkland). “The vote today for the Office of Equity will help ensure we are truly addressing the needs of ALL Washingtonians as we begin to pave new roads to the ‘American Dream.’”

Last year, Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), Gregerson and Morgan were appointed to the Office of Equity Task Force, which was formed following the conclusion of the 2019 legislative session. The task force, established by the Governor’s Interagency Coordinating Council on Health Disparities, was directed to create a proposal for the Office of Equity. The task force met several times throughout the interim in communities across the state and invited the public for opportunities to comment and participate.

“We need an Office of Equity to take a systematic approach across our state government to promote access to equitable opportunities and resources that reduce disparities, including racial and ethnic disparities, and improve outcomes statewide,” said Dhingra, who sponsored companion legislation in the Senate.

“The creation of an Office of Equity will help us ensure that all state agencies in Washington continually evaluate their policies and practices to address gaps in services and opportunities,” said Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), who co-sponsored the Senate companion bill. “This is a big step toward eliminating disparities so zip codes or race are no longer determinants for economic opportunity and lifespan.”

The bill passed 28-21. It will now return to the House to reconcile amendments before arriving at the Governor’s desk for his signature.

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    Bill requiring comprehensive sex ed in schools passes state Senate, awaits governor’s signature

Bill requiring comprehensive sex ed in schools passes state Senate, awaits governor’s signature

March 7th, 2020|

From the Seattle Times and Tacoma News Tribune

A controversial bill to require Washington’s 295 school districts to teach comprehensive sexual health education in grades K-12 is on its way to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

By a 27-21 vote on Saturday, the state Senate agreed with House amendments to SB 5395. The roll call followed a moving floor speech by Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent.

The bill would be phased in over two years, with the mandate to teach all students in grades six through 12 beginning with the 2021-2022 school year and to all students a year later.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said the bill requires curriculum that is “age-appropriate” and will teach older students about affirmative consent — an explicit, informed and voluntary agreement to participate in a sexual act.

“Instead of constantly reacting to violence against women, we now actually will be in a position where we are preventing future victimization and preventing future violence,” she said.

Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, said he reviewed sex education material that the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has approved for fifth-grade students. O’Ban said it was too explicit.

“Who will decide what is age-appropriate, where there is clearly going to be differences in opinion? Should that be a government-mandated decision from OSPI or should that be based upon the values of parents as reflected in their school boards and schools? We’ve always believed that the best government is the one that is local,” he said.

When Das stood to speak in favor of the bill, she said she had been largely silent on the sex education topic. “They say that you should speak up, even if your voice is shaking,” she added.

Das said male babysitters sexually abused her when she was 4 and 8 years old. At age 16, a relative tried to abuse her, she said.

“Remember, as I’ve told you over and over again, my family came here from India with $6. And I think people thought they could take advantage of my family in any way they chose to do that. I wish I had this education in school. I wish someone taught me about consent. I wish someone told me that ‘no meant no.’ I know that I am not alone.

“We have watched our friends and family members post on social media that they are survivors and they have ‘#MeToo’ stories. This is the first time I have chosen to publicly share mine and I will tell you what: I am not alone. My story sadly is not unique,” Das said.

Das said the bill would “have made a difference for this little girl.” She said she hoped it would change the the life of “just one little kid.”

Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, expressed his “sincere sympathy” to Das.

His voice cracking with emotion, Wagoner said: “I think I speak for everybody here that that shouldn’t happen to anybody and it is brave of her to say it to all of us.”

Wagoner voted to not approve the amendments made by the House, but he said he was not opposed to the bill “in totality.”

“I’ve always said what is important is how we implement it. If we respect the local control, if we respect our school boards and we respect the parents who vote our school boards to those positions, I’m fine with it. It may work great for some communities.

“To the age-appropriateness, I saw some of the same material that Senator O’Ban was speaking about. And I can tell you, if it was a photograph instead of a drawing it would be pornography,” Wagoner said.

By James Drew

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    Legislature approves law to create office focused on reducing gun violence

Legislature approves law to create office focused on reducing gun violence

March 6th, 2020|

From the Spokesman-Review

Washington likely will be the first state to create an office focused on reducing firearm violence through data analysis and a grant program to help communities and Indian tribes.

“We don’t need to wait until shots have been fired,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, in a statement. “We need to intervene to prevent violence before it happens.”

The bill passed the House with a minor admendment on a 53-44 vote and was sent back to the Senate for final approval before heading to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature. Undert he Legislation the office would be known as the Washington Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention.

Gun violence is a national and statewide crisis that especially affects communities of color, said Rep. Christina Kilduff, D-University Place.

Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, said the focus of the office is too broad and it should only focus on firearm suicides to effectively address the problem.

County prosecutors, researchers, public health agencies and law enforcement departments would be involved in analyzing data, collection methods and gaps, according to the bill.

Several representatives raised concerns about the evidence-based research approach and suggested a peer-reviewed approach to data collection, but those amendments weren’t adopted.

The Washington Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention would work with the Office of Crime Victim Advocacy to support victims of firearms violence, contract a statewide helpline, and offer counseling and referral services.

“We have an epidemic of gun violence before us. This bill will help move the needle and then some,” Kilduff said.

By Daisy Zavala

Mandatory sex education bill headed to Gov. Inslee’s desk for signature

March 5th, 2020|

From Q13 Fox

A measure that makes K-12 sex education mandatory in Washington public schools is headed to the governor’s desk for his signature.

The proposal, requested by the state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, would require all public schools in Washington state to teach age-appropriate comprehensive sex ed. to 6th-12th graders starting in the 2021-2022 school year, then expand it to all students by the 2022-2023 school year.

The state Senate passed the measure with a 27-21 vote over the weekend.

It’s been a controversial topic throughout the Legislative session, and not everyone believes it’s in students’ best interests.

“These amendments will just drive more people into private schools or home schooling so parents will have some control over what their kids are taught,” said state Sen. Curtis King, a Yakima Republican.

State Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, defended the bill, noting that the curriculum is age-appropriate and will teach older students about consent.

The bill is set to become law pending a signature from the governor.

Sex education will be required in Washington public schools

March 5th, 2020|

Sex education will be required in every public school district of Washington, under legislation cleared by the State Senate on Saturday and sent to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

The legislation, stalled for two years in the House of Representatives, drew fierce Republican opposition. It passed the Senate on a 27-21 party line vote, with murmurs that opponents may seen to send the issue to voters in a referendum.

“Republicans have never seen a compelling reason to mandate a sex education curriculum at the state level, and each of us believes those decisions should continue to be made at the local level, where parents can be heard directly,” the Senate Republican Caucus said in a statement after the vote.

State Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, argued: “We’ve always believed that the best government is one that is local.” Other GOP lawmakers have argued darkly that the legislation is the product of people and groups with “agendas.” What those “agendas” are has not been defined.

Under the legislation, every public school in Washington must have a comprehensive sexual health education program, one that meets certain requirements. Parents can choose to take their offspring out of the program.

School districts will have criteria tools to review, as well as criteria established by the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The legislation requires school districts to annually report the criteria they are using.

The sex education requirement kicks in this September for grades 6 to 12, and in September of 2021 for kindergarten through 5th grade.

State Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way, an educator and chief sponsor, termed the requirement sensible and necessary. “We must ensure that our kids have the tools and know they need to recognize and resist inappropriate behavior,” she argued. “This important education will help prevent younger kids from being targeted by pedophiles and help teens who feel pressures to have sex.”

The debate saw first-term State Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, get personal and move colleagues with her story. Das related that male babysitters sexually abused her as a little girl, and that a male relative sought to abuse her when she was a teenager.

“I wish I had this education in school,” she told colleagues. “I wish someone taught me about consent. I wish someone told me that ‘no meant no’. I know that I am not alone.”

Twice in recent years, in 2009 and 2012, opponents organized by the religious rights have taken the Legislature’s actions to a vote. In 2009, the state voted in favor of legalizing domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. Three years later, Washington became one of the first three dates to vote in favor of marriage equality. The state’s first same-sex wedding was performed by King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu, who now sits on the Washington State Supreme Court.

The Family Policy Institute of Washington, a force behind previous referendum campaigns, has fiercely opposed mandatory sex education in public schools.

Sex education is “driven by Planned Parenthood” and “seeks to indoctrinate and sexualize children all the way down to kindergarten,” the Center’s web site argues. It accuses advocates of promoting “a sexuality that is contrary to God’s Word, encouraging sexual experimentation, affirming gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction.”

The curriculum is a product of “neo-Pagans (nonbelievers) and the new Socialists to change our culture and values of sex and marriage,” it adds.

State Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, a deputy King County Prosecutor, offered a far different perspective, saying in debate: “Instead of consistently reacting to violence against women, we now actually will be in a position where we are preventing future victimization and preventing future violence.”

By Joel Connelly

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    Beyond the backlog: Washington lawmakers looking to change way, where rape kits are stored

Beyond the backlog: Washington lawmakers looking to change way, where rape kits are stored

March 4th, 2020|

From The Seattle Times

In recent years, Washington, like many other states, has been overwhelmed with a backlog of untested rape kits. The state has invested millions of dollars to reduce the number of untested kits — which reached nearly 10,000 in 2015 — and hopes to eliminate the backlog by December 2021.

But even as the number shrinks, lawmakers are realizing that the backlog isn’t the only issue affecting how sexual assault cases are being handled. This legislative session, lawmakers are discussing how to better collect, store and track important forensic evidence.

Under a bill, sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, local law enforcement would be responsible for all evidence collected during a sexual assault exam, even when survivors are still deciding on whether to file a police report. Standards would be set in order to preserve that evidence for years.

“We wanna do more than test,” Orwall said. “If we truly want justice and want to take dangerous people off the streets, we need to investigate and really potentially prosecute and find justice.”

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), however, cited concerns over holding material that isn’t yet part of a police report — something the bill would require them to do.

WASPC argued that rape kits not associated with a reported crime are “not evidence,” and holding on to them is “a precedent that we’re not comfortable setting.”

Depending on the jurisdiction, law enforcement or hospitals may hold on to a sexual assault kit after it has been administered. An individual can decide whether to report their assault to the police. If they do not immediately choose to report a crime, their kit is referred to as an “unreported SAK.” There is currently no statewide clarity as to how the kits are then stored or tracked, or how long investigatory records associated with a case are kept.

Sexual assault kits are white boxes that contain instruments and instructions to collect fluids and tissues that could contain the DNA of the perpetrator. They are used by nurses who are specially trained in conducting sexual assault exams, and are stored in climate-controlled environment. Blood and urine samples are sometimes collected in addition to the kit. But state law does not define what a kit actually includes, which means those additional pieces of evidence may not be kept with the white box or included in the State Patrol’s tracking system.

“This has led to evidence related to the same assault being stored in multiple places,” said Lauren McDonald, health access policy director at Washington State Hospital Association.

Assault examination kits cannot be destroyed, thanks to a temporary moratorium spearheaded by Orwall last year, but the investigatory reports and notes associated with the kit can be. Before the moratorium, hospitals and law enforcement had discretion as to when an unreported kit could be destroyed. Investigations found that jurisdictions across the country — including in Washington — were destroying unreported kits.

There have been cases where tested kits get a “hit” — or match — in the DNA database, only for prosecutors to find that important notes about the case no longer exist, said Katharine Hemann, a Washington assistant attorney general.

House Bill 2318 would define sexual assault kits to include all evidence collected during a sexual assault exam, require the preservation of investigation records related to the kit, and require local law enforcement to hold on to unreported kits for 20 years.

Obstacles to prosecution

The State Patrol has already found hundreds of hits in sexual assault kits that the state has tested, but those hits rely on offenders’ DNA being submitted to the federal Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Although all felons are required to do so, sometimes they don’t. House Bill 2813 attempts to close what some are calling a “loophole” in the law.

Under the current system, the court may order an offender to provide a DNA sample. But if offenders are not taken into custody immediately, they are expected to return within a period of time to provide that sample, meaning there is little enforcement of the requirement. HB 2318 would require offenders to submit their DNA before leaving the court’s presence, so long as the courtroom has the ability to collect it.

When the rape kit backlog was at its peak, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg estimated that of all offenders asked to return to submit their DNA, only about a quarter actually did.

The loophole may represent many missed opportunities at justice. But even with many offenders missing from the federal database, the attorney general still anticipates almost 1,000 more hits to come back once the backlog is eliminated, and argued that it would be pointless for the state to test the kits if they don’t intend to investigate.

The attorney general requested $1.79 million for fiscal year 2021 in order to help fund a new sexual assault cold case team of seven people. The governor’s proposed budget partially fulfilled this request, and the House and Senate must now work together to generate a supplemental budget.

Logistical and “philosophical” concerns

HB 2813, along with the proposition of a cold case team, has received pushback from law enforcement.

James McMahon, WASPC policy director, told lawmakers that unreported sexual assault kits should be properly stored, but not by law enforcement. He argued that local law enforcement is responsible for storing evidence associated with crimes, and that an unreported sexual assault kit only becomes “evidence” once a crime is reported.

“They should be stored, they should be secured,” McMahon said. “But getting into the practice of having law enforcement agencies store materials that are not yet evidence, that’s a precedent that we’re not comfortable setting.”

The argument caused a rift among survivors advocating for the bill.

“Nobody goes out and gets a rape kit for fun,” Leah Griffin, a survivor on the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Best Practices advisory group, said. “This concept that this is not yet evidence is absurd.”

Proponents of the bill also argue that hospitals are not trained to store forensic material, and that a proper chain of custody is necessary to ensure that kits hold up in a court of law.

Concerns about whether law enforcement will have enough space for the kits also have been raised, and an amendment was adopted to allow law enforcement to move found property such as bicycles and other items not immediately associated with a crime to other departments in order to make space for sexual assault kits. Orwall also noted that a centralized storage location may be considered in the future for a longer-term solution.

A culture change and an apology

After years of working on legislation to address the issue, Orwall says she still hears problematic ideas about sexual assault. For example, she said she’s heard that some think an assault by someone you know is somehow less real than one committed by a stranger, and is not able to be prosecuted.

“It should still be investigated. It’s still sexual assault, and you don’t know how many cases that may link to,” Orwall said. “You’ll never catch a serial rapist unless you test every kit.”

Chris Loftis, a spokesman for the State Patrol, says officials are now understanding the “investigatory value” of testing every kit. Even when officials know whose DNA is in the kit, it might “be the linchpin in unlocking another investigation to another crime, exposing a pattern of behavior.”

In addition to the bill to address the storage of sexual assault kits and investigatory documents, Orwall has been working closely with Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, and Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, to address what officials have called a “patchwork” response to sexual assault across the state.

Mosbrucker is pushing to expand access to training so more nurses in rural areas are able to conduct sexual assault exams, while Dhingra is sponsoring a bill to develop model protocols for when victims present at a hospital.

“I think the next step is public service announcements — I think we need to apologize” to victims, Orwall said. “I think people have the right to know what happened. The state failed.”

By Claudia Yaw

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    Senate resolution honors 100-plus years of Sikh contributions to Washington

Senate resolution honors 100-plus years of Sikh contributions to Washington

March 2nd, 2020|

From the Kent Reporter

The Washington State Senate last Friday honored Washington’s Sikh community with a resolution sponsored by Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, and co-sponsored by Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond.

Joined by Gov. Jay Inslee and Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, more than 50 Sikh community members were present at the State Capitol in Olympia for an official reading of the resolution and community reception.

“As Sikh Americans, it’s important for us to build relationships with our elected officials so that we can increase Sikh awareness and community power,” said Kent City Councilmember Satwinder Kaur in a press release from the New York-based Sikh Coalition. “To be formally recognized by our state’s Legislature is meaningful to Sikhs who have made Washington our home.”

Efforts to build understanding about Sikhs and their history in Washington have increased in recent years, after violence targeting Sikhs have made local and national headlines. In 2017 in Kent, a gunman reportedly shot and injured a Sikh man in his own driveway while telling him, “go back to your own country.” Just last December, a Sikh Uber driver was allegedly viciously attacked in Bellingham and law enforcement is continuing to investigate the case as a hate crime.

“The Sikh American community is part of the great diversity that helps Washington thrive,” Das said in the release. “We are strongest when we stand together, and this resolution recognizes the vital contributions and deep community roots of Sikh Americans. Their commitment to community service and unity has woven neighbors and families together throughout history.”

In addition to raising Sikh awareness through local government, Sikhs in Washington are equipping educators to teach about Sikhism accurately in the classroom through the C3 framework. After an alleged hate crime was reported in 2017 in Kent, Washington’s Sikh community leaders also organized a hate crime forum focused on hate crime prevention alongside public officials, law enforcement and interfaith leaders.

The Sikh Coalition is one of the largest Sikh civil rights organizations in the United States, that works to create lasting impact in the courtroom, classroom, community and halls of Congress.

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    Child sex trafficking survivors deserve to be protected, not criminalized

Child sex trafficking survivors deserve to be protected, not criminalized

February 28th, 2020|

From Crosscut

by Manka Dhingra & Tina Orwall & Shoshana Wineburg

She was violated and raped in plain sight at all hours of the day and night. She was sold and threatened with violence and death. She scratched and kicked the walls of her motel room. She cried for help from anyone who could hear. Instead of helping, motel staff told her to “keep it down.” She would later be arrested for prostitution that she was forced into.

Her story isn’t unique. It’s the story of American sex trafficking and it’s trapping girls in every community in the sexual-abuse-to-prison pipeline.

Between the ages of 12 and 15, a woman known only as M.L., was raped up to 10 times a day at a Motel 6 in Washington state. After employees allegedly turned a blind eye or enabled her abuse, she’s now fighting back with a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Tacoma against the major motel chain and Craigslist for enabling child sex trafficking. The lawsuit claims that many people within the hospitality industry and Craigslist knew that children were being sold for sex and did nothing to stop it. In fact, M.L. alleges that the motel manager tried to buy her, along with other girls, for sex. Once Motel 6 found out about the prostitution, the lawsuit claims, all it did was transfer him to a different location.

Cases like M.L.’s are far too common across the nation. We don’t know the full scope of child sex trafficking within the United States, but studies indicate that 100,000 to 3 million children are purchased for sex each year. What we do know, tragically, is that it’s the most vulnerable children — youth who have been abused or those involved with the child welfare system — who are being sexually victimized and eventually incarcerated.

Twenty years ago, President Bill Clinton signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which established the first ever legal definition of human trafficking. Following passage, commercial sex acts “by force, fraud, or coercion,” or performed on people under the age of 18, constituted a “severe form of trafficking.” Thus, the TVPA laid out that children are victims, not perpetrators, of their own sexual exploitation.

While the TVPA defined the problem of human trafficking and established minors involved in a commercial sex act as victims, the law didn’t go far enough. Today in 2020, children under 18 can still be survivors of sex trafficking, yet be prosecuted for the sex crime of prostitution. As a result, it has fallen upon individual states to fix this contradiction by passing safe harbor legislation — policies which exempt minors from charges of prostitution and provide therapeutic services instead of incarceration.

Two years after the passage of the TVPA, Michigan’s Legislature charted the course for what statewide safe harbor policy could look like. As of 2019, 31 states, including Washington, D.C., have passed some form of safe harbor. That leaves 20 states that continue to criminalize child survivors of sex trafficking, including Washington state.

Sexual abuse during childhood is frequently one of the key indicators that girls — disproportionately girls of color — will enter the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Often, they are condemned for crimes related to their own sexual abuse and reactions to traumatic events. This includes substance abuse, truancy, running away and retaliating against their abusers. These crimes are loud cries for help and therapeutic intervention, and should not be met with traditional detention and punishment.

This is why we have proposed a holistic completion of safe harbor legislation (House Bill 1775) in Washington state. The policy would exempt trafficking survivors from crimes related to their own sexual exploitation. It would create a pilot program for therapeutic receiving centers to take children who have been trafficked and establish designated trafficking liaisons within Washington’s child welfare system. These interventions can disrupt the sexual-abuse-to-prison pipeline by offering survivors a chance to heal and build a pathway to a life free of exploitation and violence.

This an ambitious but necessary step toward ending sex trafficking. Had safe harbor policies been in place for M.L., she may have been able to get the help she needed sooner.

In 2020, we hope to add Washington state to the growing list of safe harbor states, and we encourage all 19 remaining states to join us. Even in a highly divided nation, this is one area where we should all be able to agree.