Commentary: Utah’s Rep. Stewart still not doing enough to protect women

Stewart’s record is lacking in both government transparency and legislation that supports women.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune Rep. Chris Stewart, Republican incumbent in Utah's 2nd Congressional District, talks to the Salt Lake Tribune;s editorial board at the paper's offices in Salt Lake City Friday September 16, 2016.

Rep. Chris Stewart’s introduction of the Victims’ Voice and Transparency Act, allowing those victimized by sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill to release the names of the accused and the settlements, is appreciated. The representative suggests that Americans deserve the utmost level of transparency on this issue.

However, Stewart’s bill simply removes the requirement of a non-disclosure agreement, and so he fails to address the pervasive nature of harassment in our institutions.

Stewart’s record is lacking in both government transparency and legislation that supports women. Further, he has not been a public advocate for those victimized by sexual harassment, assault or misconduct, as was plainly evidenced by his vote in 2013 not to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

In 2016, 40 pieces of legislation were introduced in the House related to government transparency. Stewart did not sponsor or co-sponsor a single one of those bills. More troublingly, in September the Department of Education, under the leadership of Betsy DeVos, revoked a key part of policy that provided clarity and guidance to college campuses on how to support victims and take sexual assault more seriously. Stewart, a supporter of DeVos, was silent.

As the board chair of a local center that provides services to those victimized by sexual violence, I know the depth of this issue in the Salt Lake Valley. Over the last month alone, our center has seen a 75 percent increase from last year in requests for services after a sexual assault in Salt Lake County.

We’ve seen strong support at the city, county, and state levels for testing rape kits and ending the backlog of unprocessed evidence. This is heartening.

However, those who work directly with victims — advocates, educators, therapists — are forced to stretch limited resources to support our community members traumatized by sexual violence.

So, Rep. Stewart, while your social media posts and proposed legislation on this issue are a small step forward, what we really need is an advocate who works across party lines to ensure good policy at the institutional level, including our military and college campuses, that works to address the systemic nature of this problem. We need federal support to adequately meet the needs of survivors seeking help. We need someone who takes the side of women and others who come forward with their stories of sexual assault and misconduct, even when the accused sits in the most powerful seat of our executive branch.

Shireen Ghorbani

Shireen Ghorbani is a communications professional, a volunteer with over 15 years of work in sexual assault advocacy and prevention, and is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for the U.S. House of Representatives from Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.

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