In the age of #MeToo, after hearing the stories of the many courageous women who have shared their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse, we would hope that lawmakers and people in power would address these issues differently. Yet it still seems as though more work needs to be done to help victims of sexual assault.
Katie Brennan, a woman who reported having been raped by a top advisor to Governor Phil Murphy, spoke out and proposed a series of policy reform changes that she says will help women come forward and address the issue.
Brennan is calling for amendments to many laws currently on the books, some of which include more training for professionals who work with victims of sexual assault and harassment. Other changes would require a statewide reporting system for instances of harassment, inappropriate comments and rape, creation of sex offender courts and court watches for judicial procedural reform for cases involving sexual assault.
These new resources are designed to help victims of sexual assault so they may report these issues forthright. However, there is always risk in a system that rarely holds elites accountable.
One example of this is the case of Judge James Troiano who resigned in July 2019 after weeks of protest. Judge Troiano declined to prosecute a 16-year-old boy, who knowingly raped an intoxicated girl, as an adult. He said the reason behind his decision was that the boy came from a good family, served as an Eagle Scout, and that trying him as an adult would hurt his chances of getting into a school.
Ultimately an appellate court reversed the decision of the judge because it had found that Troiano had supplanted the judgment of the prosecutor, making the decision more or less on a non-neutral basis to not try the person who committed the crime as an adult, committing a procedural error in the process, causing the reversal.
There are other examples of New Jersey judges letting sexual violence go with light slaps on the wrist, such as Judges John Russo Jr. and Marcia Silva.
There is more to be done in government, but also in colleges as well. Over the last few years, sexual violence has been on the rise at most institutions, including Ramapo College of New Jersey. In the college’s annual security report issued by the Department of Public Safety, between 2017 and 2018 rape cases increased from 10 to 13.
While there is no institutional bias that exists to protect those who cause sexual violence here at the college, it shows that more work must be done not only at the state level but in every place in the country. We can and should be asking for better from those whom we place our trust in to be our leader.