Democratic gubernatorial candidate Krish Vignarajah has a plan in the works to try to root out sexual harassment and violence in business, government and schools across Maryland.
The 38-year-old former Obama administration adviser released a three-pronged plan yesterday that, among other goals, would create a new state government department dubbed the “Office of Sexual Harassment and Violence.”
The office would create incentives government and business workplaces to have regular audits performed for sexual harassment, certify a “gold standard” to publicly recognize employers who successfully address sexual harassment, more comprehensively serve survivors of sexual violence – through an anonymous hotline, for example – and support police investigations of sexual violence.
Vignarajah said in a statement that the recent #MeToo social media campaign, which demonstrates solidarity among those who’ve been victimized by sexual harassment or violence, inspired her to join the effort. The campaign began shortly after Hollywood film exec Harvey Weinstein was accused by more than 80 women of sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape. Others, including “House of Cards” star Kevin Spacey and comedian Louis C.K., have since also been accused of sexual harassing or assaulting multiple people in their careers.
Vignarajah said in her statement that she identifies as a survivor of such abuse.
“Sexual harassment and sexual violence have no place in society, especially in government,” she said. “Maryland has been a moral leader on so many of our country’s hardest issues, and my plan is meant to follow in that tradition. My plan reflects that more is needed today to fix a society that tacitly condones sexual harassment and silences victims.”
Beyond creating incentives to conduct sexual harassment audits, Vignarajah would also bring in a third party to audit the state government. “The overall results will be made public in a manner that respects privacy and anonymity,” her plan promises.
Other proposals of hers include requiring applicants for government jobs to disclose any personal history of committing sexual harassment or violence, and ramping up sexual consent education in secondary school and college.
She also hopes to address Maryland’s infamous rape kit backlog. The state has long had approximately 3,700 rape kits sitting and awaiting testing, due to sparse financial and testing resources and the lack of an established, enforced timeframe for testing. One of Vignarajah’s goals would be to provide “additional financial resources, as well as technical support to secure federal funding,” to crime labs and law enforcement agencies to move those test kits out of the line.
Attorney General Brian Frosh recommended at the start of 2017 that the state require uniform procedural and timing rules for local enforcement to test rape kits; the General Assembly responded by enacting a law forcing agencies to retain untested kits for up to 20 years.
Vignarajah previously served as policy director for first lady Michelle Obama and was a senior advisor in the State Department for both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. She’s competing with seven others for the Democratic nomination to face Gov. Larry Hogan in the 2018 general election.
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