If the Legislature is in town, you can count on the Republican War on Women to continue. While the national and local marches to strip reproductive freedom from women rightly got much of the attention this week, a close look at the legislative priorities of Republicans and their sidekicks in gun groups shows that the hostility to women doesn’t stop at the desire to take away their healthcare; it extends to making them more vulnerable to assault.
Representative Theresa Manzella is offering HB 238, which would make the crime of a “false report to authorities” potentially subject to imprisonment for decades. While Manzella’s bill thoughtfully takes the death penalty off the table, it drastically increases the penalty for false reporting from the current sanction of up to $500 and six months in county jail.
While Manzella didn’t respond to a request for comment, her bill is almost certainly aimed at the conservative myth that men are often victimized by false sexual assault charges spread by conservative leaders like President Trump and Senator Steve Daines during the Kavanaugh hearings.
The bill is a constitutional and safety nightmare that will discourage sexual assault survivors from coming forward. The experience of Missoula County over the past decade ably demonstrates how survivors are routinely treated as hostile and dishonest by law enforcement and prosecutors, and Manzella is now proposing giving those same agencies the power to threaten women with prison terms for coming forward.
The law should not be changed to accommodate conservative hysteria; the law should better protect sexual assault survivors. RAINN notes that of 1000 rapes committed in the U.S. today, only five perpetrators go to prison even though 230 are reported to the police. A cursory look at sentencing for sexual assault cases in Montana shows that the legal system here still struggles with adequate punishment for those who commit sexual assault.
Lying to authorities is, of course, a serious matter, though I don’t recall any Republicans calling for the prosecution of Greg Gianforte or his staff after both lied to authorities about his assault on Ben Jacobs. Giving a legal system that still struggles with adequate regard for the rights of sexual assault survivors another tool that will discourage reporting.
On the other side of the equation, the Montana Shooting Sports Association is coming out against Senator Sue Malek’s SB 95, which will give judges the power protect survivors of domestic violence and those seeking temporary restraining orders.
Malek’s bill makes two important fixes in the law. Right now, a judge has the power to prevent someone who is bound by a TRO possessing or using “the firearm used in the assault.” Malek’s bill changes that language to “firearms,” rightly reasoning that a person so dangerous that a TRO is necessary might not threaten to kill with the weapon he used the first time.
More significantly, the bill would make it unlawful for someone who has been convicted of partner or family member assault, strangulation of a family member, stalking, or violation of an order of protection.
These prohibitions would be, in the words of the MSSA, “riddled with potential for abuse and unintended consequences, but there are clear consequences for victims of abuse who are tragically frequently killed by those who have previously assaulted them.
Malek’s bill will harmonize Montana law with federal law and protect those who have been abused, threatened, or assaulted by family members–and those are three intended consequences the Legislature should absolutely endorse.