The growing Trump Cabinet poses several concerns for gender equality and the recognition and support of gender diversity[i]. Many Americans are especially dismayed by the nomination of Cabinet members with a recorded history of anti-LGBTQ statements, business practices, and Congressional votes. For gender-based criminal justice policies, such as hate crime laws and anti-transgender “bathroom bills,” the confirmations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, III and Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price have important implications.
In 1996, the suicide of a young Texas man named Rodney Hulin, Jr. in the wake of multiple sexual assaults partially spurred Congress to unanimously pass the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The purpose of the nation’s first federal civil law addressing sexual violence behind bars was to call for nationwide data collection on the problem of prisoner rape and federal grants to help states combat it within prisons, jails, police lockups, youth facilities, immigration detention facilities, and community corrections. While PREA was developed with good intentions by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) in concert with prisoner rights’ advocates from across the country, and has been lauded by the American Civil Liberties Union and Just Detention International, it falls far short of what is needed to protect all prisoners, especially women, people of color, transgender individuals, and disabled people.
The Democrats, Republicans, and the White House are in the midst of hashing out a large scale infrastructure bill in the coming weeks and months. Aside from addressing the maintenance needs of much of the United States, infrastructure spending is billed as a way to boost jobs, and stimulate the economy. President Trump has also called cities dangerous war zones throughout the campaign and since taking office – a claim that has been challenged. While he has not focused in his statements on violence against women within urban areas, it is possible that his proposed new infrastructure spending could be an opportunity to address gender-based violence and some of its affects.
Two important Trump education picks have either refused to endorse or openly criticized Title IX, the landmark 1972 federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded program. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, refused to answer whether she would enforce the law during her confirmation hearing, while Jerry Falwell Jr., Trump’s pick to lead a federal task force on higher education, has stated he would like to curb the rules that require colleges to investigate campus sexual assault under Title IX. What might a rollback of Title IX under the Trump administration imply for the incidence of campus sexual assault and campus climates? The challenges and opportunities to fight sexual assault on campus are better understood when we consider 1) legislation in place concerning campus sexual assault, and 2) the role of formal and informal institutions in the enforcement of these laws. Specifically, enforcement of existing formal rules has helped to create campus climates in which it is clear that sexual violence is not tolerated, and in which victims are encouraged to come forward and report crimes because they can expect a quick, protective response. A change in federal policy will bring about a corresponding and equally important change in informal institutions, sending a chill over campuses that have only recently begun to work in earnest against campus sexual assaults.
On January 12, 2017, the United States Department of Justice and the City of Baltimore adopted a settlement agreement, known as a consent decree, governing changes to policing in Baltimore. On February 2, 2017, representatives from the Department of Justice and Baltimore City officials assured U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar that they remain committed to enforcing that agreement. But will Attorney General nominee Senator Jeff Sessions commit to the consent decree’s enforcement?
The consent decree was the culmination of a Department of Justice investigation into the Baltimore City Police Department, an investigation triggered by the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in April 2015 and the uprisings that followed. The investigation was wide-ranging, looking not just at police misuse of force, but a number of other deficits in policing alleged by the citizens of Baltimore. Included in those complaints was the contention that Baltimore City Police engaged in gender biased policing. The Department of Justice ultimately found evidence of gender bias in the Baltimore City Police Department’s handling of sexual assault cases: in the treatment of victims of sexual assault, particularly transgender victims, and in the failure to adequately investigate reports of sexual assault, including the failure to routinely request testing of rape kits.
It is as of yet unclear how the new presidential administration will address the on going crisis of gender-based violence in the United States. As the New York Times reported in early December, three of President-elect Trump’s picks for top positions voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013: Tom Price, selected to be Health and Human Services Secretary; Mike Pompeo, chosen to direct the CIA; and, Jeff Sessions, who recently faced confirmation hearings to be Attorney General. More recently, a variety of media outlets reported on the Trump administrations’ request to the State Department to outline “existing programs and activities to promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence.” The purpose behind this request is still unclear, but raised concerns on the direction the new administration might take both at home and abroad on this issue.
HUMPHREY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
301 19th Avenue South Minneapolis MN 55455
Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy
Most Popular Posts
Sign-up to receive the lastest news from the Gender Policy Report.