We believe you — and here’s what states should do about it

We believe you — and here’s what states should do about it
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When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of the predominantly male United States Senate Judiciary Committee, women across the country watched and listened as she spoke on a life-altering experience that far too many of us have encountered.

The news that followed has been especially triggering for sexual assault survivors. Dr. Ford’s testimony and its response has women across the country wondering at what point are we no longer speaking into the void?

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New York activists Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila expressed how many feel about the apparent dismissal of Dr. Ford’s allegations when they confronted Senator Jeff Flake at a Senate elevator: “You're telling me that my assault doesn't matter, that what happened to me doesn't matter, and that you're going to let people who do these things into power. That's what you're telling me when you vote for him.”

At what point will bravely choosing to step forward — in an elevator or otherwise — be met with genuine concern and equally important action?

With continued conversations surrounding sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination, our society is struggling to grapple with a teachable moment on how ingrained this systemic abuse is across all industries. And while the conversations unfold on a national scale, efforts on the local and state level are needed now more than ever to ensure the safety and security of survivors who come forward.

Several intersecting events have the potential to impact our future if we don’t take the necessary actions. The Violence Against Women Act was on the verge of expiring on September 30 had it not been for an extension through December. October is recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This month, we are also reminded of the power of women’s voices with the one year anniversary of the #MeToo movement.

If anything, these past few weeks have confirmed that the time to act was yesterday. Every day that goes by without measures to protect survivors and address sexual harassment and gender-based violence and discrimination is a day too many.

Too many women have these stories — it’s time to change the narrative.

The gaps in legal protection are extensive but we need to start somewhere. We do not need to wait for Congress.

In New York, we passed legislation to strengthen protections and increase the availability of resources through measures that would prohibit the disclosure of immigration status in cases of domestic violence, assist law enforcement with the removal of firearms from the scene of a domestic violence incident, and ensure that survivors can more easily remove themselves from contracts and commitments that dangerously tie them to their abusers.

The unbalanced workforce dynamic impacts everyone from models in the fashion industry to low wage workers in restaurants and retail. State legislatures can and should do more. In California, legislators passed a law to ban non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment settlements — a move that sheds light on how often survivors are silenced. Lawmakers have instituted sexual harassment protections for private-sector employees in Arizona, Maryland, and Vermont. New Jersey and Minnesota have introduced their own versions.

None of these measures are sufficient on their own. Even if we succeeded in codifying all of these protections into law, there will still be more to act on, more loopholes to address, and revisions to make. But each piece of legislation passed ensures protections for survivors and every state that enacts such measures brings us closer to filling in the gaps. Every person who faces sexual harassment and gender-based violence and discrimination deserves every bit of support we can provide.

It’s one thing to tell survivors that we hear and believe them — now let’s show them with the necessary legislation and action.

Nily Rozic is a New York State Assemblywoman representing parts of Queens; in 2012, she was the youngest woman ever elected to the state legislature. She is a longtime Democratic organizer, analyst, and Lindsay Fellow at the City University of New York's Institute for State and Local Governance. Her work has been published in The New York Times, the NY Daily News, El Diario, and other outlets. You can follow her on Twitter @nily.