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My Turn: Rape culture is pervasive at the State House



For the Monitor
Saturday, April 29, 2017

In the past couple of weeks I have had the pleasure of talking to my town’s fourth-grade students, high school students from our 4-H clubs and home-school students about state government. In all cases, the students were engaged and inquisitive, a joy to be with.

When my daughter Marina was in high school, she introduced me to a song by Heather Small, “Proud.” I tell every student group I talk to that the lyric from this song guides me in my work as their legislator: “What have you done today to make you feel proud?” I want them to feel proud of their community, of their state, of their country. I hope they will also want to serve in government proudly as I do. Lately though, it has been hard to find things to be proud of in the State House.

I sent a letter to the speaker of the House, Shawn Jasper, this week asking that he call for the resignation of a fellow representative, Robert Fisher of Laconia.

Rep. Fisher has been revealed by the Daily Beast as the author of a Reddit community of more than 200,000 users called “The Red Pill.” A place for misogynists and rape apologists to swap “sexual strategies.” One of the representative’s more disgusting assertions is that “rape isn’t an absolute bad because the rapist I think probably likes it a lot. I think he’d say it’s quite good really.” I had to take a few moments to gather myself after I read that.

After I publicly called for him to resign, a couple of his supporters jumped to his defense. These supporters were other representatives and they equivocated and did verbal gymnastics to try to obfuscate the truth of what “their friend” had said, done and we all could see with our own eyes.

I am not proud, in fact I am devastated and sad to say that rape culture is pervasive at the State House. To be clear, rape culture is “a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.” I have witnessed this on a weekly basis in Concord.

A few weeks ago, I appeared before the House Finance Committee to support legislation I co-sponsored asking for the state to fund the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Not a week goes by when we don’t see another predator arrested for producing or buying child sex abuse images. Currently our task force is an ad hoc force with only one officer fully funded and a portion of another funded, it’s not nearly enough to track down the daily abuses of children online.

Live streaming of child abuse is real and happening here in our state every day. I think saving those children is worth our efforts. The chairman of the committee said after hearing testimony, “You know what this bill looks like to me? It looks like pork. How is this any different from the historical society wanting us to fund them?”

During testimony in the Criminal Justice Committee, the vice chairman joked openly about how he and his “buddies” went to Amsterdam and the prostitutes they hired claimed to love their jobs. The victims of sexual trafficking in the room didn’t laugh. Later, another representative from that same committee wrote in the House calendar regarding House Bill 94 that it was okay to use the defense of “but I didn’t know she/he was only 14, officer, because they looked 18 to me” for people who buy children for sex. He stated other members of the committee believe “it is not right to convict someone of a crime they had no intention of committing.” This bill was about the sex trafficking of children.

The House voted to indefinitely postpone a bill that would have repealed the current law that allows for 13-year-old girls and 14-year-old boys to be married. Three representatives fought hard to keep this a reality weaving a tall tale of 17 year olds enlisting in the Army and being sent off to war wanting to marry their sweethearts.

The reality is this: From 1989 through 2016 there have been 784 children married. In 1991, a 38-year-old was allowed to marry a minor and in 2002, a 37-year-old had a child spouse. The most recent child marriage was in 2013. The oldest man in New Hampshire to marry a child was 40 and the oldest New Hampshire woman to marry a child was 29. House Bill 499 should have been the easiest vote, and yet it failed 179-168. Middle school marriages are still legal in New Hampshire for at least another two years.

These are just a few examples of what is happening up in Concord. The good news is the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force funding looks like it will make it to the governor’s desk and he has already pledged his support for it. The bad news is the current budget allocates zero dollars for the state’s sexual violence crisis centers who work with the victims of sexual abuse and trafficking.

Knowing how critical this work is through my own work at a domestic and sexual violence center and experiencing the situations I have described , I know this work is critical to the well being of New Hampshire. The Senate will have a hearing on Tuesday about this.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month just ended. Clearly, given the examples I shared there is more education and awareness to be done. The CDC just released a report showing New Hampshire has some of the highest rates of sexual assault in the country. Battling the rape culture that normalizes and minimizes assault and abuse is how we turn that around. I am working on that with ferocity because I promised the voters in New Hampshire and our children I would work to make you feel proud.

(Debra Altschiller represents Stratham, District 19, and can be reached at debra.altschiller@leg.state.nh.us or on Twitter @DebrasATeam and Facebook @Debra4Stratham.)