Women with full-time jobs earn 77% of what men doing the same job earn. African-American women earn 64 cents and Latina women earn 56 cents for every dollar earned by a Caucasian man. Women currently hold 24, or 4.8 percent, of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. In 2019, women hold 127 of the 535 seats in the 116th U.S. Congress – 25 of the 100 seats in the Senate and 102 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. In 2019, 86 women hold statewide elective executive offices across the country; women hold 27.6% of the 312 available positions. On average, 30 percent of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner. American women serving in Iraq or Afghanistan are more likely to be raped by a comrade then killed by an enemy, and the rate of sexual harassment reports is higher than ever.

Stronger NC has wanted to address women’s issues from the start. But how? It’s such a huge topic and the issues intersect with nearly every aspect of our toolkits, our posts, and certainly the actions of the NCGA. For this week’s NCGA Action Plan we focus on three main areas of concern in the lives of women that have been in the news recently, and where we can make legislative progress: Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, Women’s Whole Health, and Protections for Victims of Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault.

Ratification of the ERA

The Equal Rights Amendment was approved by Congress in 1972. Ratification by 38 states was required within seven years, however when enough states failed to act, the deadline was extended to 1982. Still the amendment remained three states short of the threshold. After the 2016 election a new wave of energy gathered around the ERA. In 2017 Nevada ratified the 28th amendment, followed by Illinois in 2018. If North Carolina becomes the 38th and final state needed to ratify the amendment, it will be illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex. On March 5, 2019, HB 271 and SB184, which would ratify the ERA in North Carolina, were introduced in the General Assembly. North Carolina is on the brink of making history. Read more about what’s at stake in our ERA post here.

Women’s Whole Health

The Center for Women’s Health Research published their bi-annual North Carolina Women’s Health Report Card in May of last year. NC has the 4th highest rate of uninsured women in the US. 30% of women in our state live below the poverty line. Women report financial barriers as the reason for not seeking medical care. Low-income, uninsured women depend on clinics funded through the Title X program, which provides family planning and other medical services, for all types of healthcare. At the end of February 2019 the Trump Administration issued the final rule on Title X, barring groups that provide abortions or abortion referrals from participating in the $286 million federal family planning program. The American Medical Association warned the rule would have implications to women’s health beyond access to abortion. This action could affect access to healthcare services now provided to low-income women by theses clinics, including birth control, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Access to Abortion

It’s an assumption that access to abortion has been legally available since Roe. However for low-income women, women who are dependent on federal assistance, women who get their health care coverage from a federal agency like Native American women or women in TriCare (the military health care program), access is already extremely restricted. We read headlines about states passing laws which would ban abortion very early in pregnancy, before some women even know they are pregnant, or states like Texas where they have dramatically decreased the number of clinics where abortion is available making it virtually impossible to get the medical care women need. As we’ve seen in the horrific case in Argentina, where abortion is legal, anti-abortion supporters will go to extreme lengths to restrict access in a number of ways, even for a child who has been raped. We must be pro-active in protecting the rights afforded to us by the Constitution, and not allow them to be stripped away by a minority bent on serving their own interests.

How are women in NC already being affected by access restrictions and what services are available to them? While we wait to see if Roe will be overturned, it’s worth asking ourselves these questions. Could Roe be codified in state law so that federal actions would not impact North Carolina? What are other actions we could take in our state to protect the autonomy of every woman’s body? For a more in depth look at what is happening in NC regarding the erosion of abortion access see our post here.

Protections for Victims of Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault

On March 28, 2019, Representative Cody Henson, who represents District 113 in the North Carolina General Assembly, will answer a criminal summons on charges of cyberstalking. In February a judge granted a domestic violence protection order to Henson’s wife. Yet Cody Henson is still representing his district on Jones Street. The NC Democratic Party has called for Henson to resign. Perpetrators of domestic violence can be found in all walks of life. There is no type of person who commits these acts, no outward appearance to serve as a warning sign – red flags are often seen in hindsight. Since 2016, reported cases of domestic violence have been on the rise as reported by state-funded domestic violence agencies. In 2017 there were 110 homicides in NC related to domestic violence.  Domestic violence is by no means a women only issue – 38 victims of the 110 homicides in 2017 were men; however 80% of the offenders were men.

Reporting abuse to the police can present a tangle of unexpected consequences. When the police arrive on the scene, the abuser can claim that the victim has assaulted him which can result in a dual arrest. In the 2017-2018 NCGA session HB 857 was introduced to study dual arrests in domestic violence cases. It was referred to committee in April 2017, with no further action. Trolls, doxxing, cyber bullying are all forms of internet harassment. Safety online is a growing concern for all women. This Empowering Internet Safety for Women Guide is a trove of helpful information as we navigate the information superhighway.

Backlog of Rape Kits

Across the state there are more than 15,000 untested rape kits. Although the NCGA passed HB 945 in 2018, a law that creates a tracking system for the backlog of untested rape kits, many municipalities depend on grant money for the US Bureau of Justice’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI). SAKI is a grant program to help fund the testing of rape kits to bring justice to victims of sexual assault. In 2018 the NC Department of Justice received $2 million from SAKI. We are pleased to see The Survivor Act, bipartisan legislation recently introduced in the NCGA, which would mandate local law enforcement agencies to submit reported sexual assault kits to accredited crime laboratories for testing within 45 days of receipt and would provide $6 million in funding to address the current backlog of unsubmitted sexual assault kits.

There Ought To Be a Law

The very definition of rape in NC is shocking to some. A women cannot legally revoke her consent to engage in sexual intercourse once that act has consensually begun, thanks to a 1979 state Supreme Court decision, State v. Way, that ruled a person cannot revoke consent to a sexual act once penetration has occurred. Senator Jeff Jackson introduced SB 553, Revoke Consent for Intercourse, multiple times, but it has not been allowed to the floor for a vote by the current Republican majority.  Until this loophole is closed, “No” will only mean no sometimes.

Today in North Carolina it is not a crime to put a drug into someone’s drink. Rep. Chaz Beasley has introduced H393, Modernizing Sexual Assault Laws, which would make drugging someone a crime. Furthermore the bill changes the language of existing state law to close loopholes in sexualt assault prosecutions which consider how many drinks a woman had before she was raped.

It has taken centuries for women to enjoy the rights and freedoms we have now. In 2020 we will celebrate 100 years of Women’s Suffrage. It wasn’t until 1974 that a woman could get a bank loan without a man co-signing with her. Before 1978 a woman could be fired from her job for becoming pregnant. Times have changed, but we have further to go still. We ask the NCGA to Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, to codify Roe v. Wade in North Carolina state law, and pass the multitude of laws that will protect women from sexual assault which have been introduced this session.

CALLS TO ACTION

Contact your State Senator and Representative and tell them which bills you support or don’t.

  • H53/S52 would force doctors to give medically untrue statements (based neither in science nor medicine) to their patients about fake “abortion reversal,” and would force patients to have to sign a document saying they received the false statements before they could have their abortion. Abortion is healthcare; this bill wants to put a chilling effect on people seeking an abortion and on doctors.
  • H54/S51,a “method ban bill,” would ban the most common procedure for second term abortions, effectively putting patients’ health at extreme risk and prohibiting doctors from practicing the full scope of their profession.
  • H29/S46 Requires testing of the backlog of more than 15,000 untested rape kits statewide and seeks funding to begin the process.
  • H41, known as Allison’s Law, would establish a pilot program and funding to allow the use of GPS tracking of a person who has committed acts of domestic violence.
  • H37 would extend the statute of limitations on when a victim could file a civil suit in cases of sexual assault.
  • H393 would make it illegal to drug someone’s drink (how is that not a crime?).
  • H271 and S184 would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in North Carolina.

Contact the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, volunteer your time, or donate to support their efforts to protect victims of domestic violence.

Become a Crisis Line Advocate with Safe Space.

Ask your representative to sponsor legislation mandating confiscation of all firearms from anyone who is the subject of a restraining order for more than 10 days. Currently it’s up to the judge as to whether firearms are confiscated and usually there must be threats made against the victim.

Ask for funding for domestic violence resources and court advocates for domestic abuse victims.

You can volunteer to be a court advocate with the NC Victim Assistance Network.

District Attorneys are elected officials. While all sexual assault cases are unique and the reasons behind no prosecutions can be varied, the DA’s record should be evaluated. Carolina Public Press has analyzed a number of county DA offices and their record of sexual assault convictions.