As emerging cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault dominate national and local news, the dialogue is shifting towards victims’ inability to discuss abuse, commonly citing confidentiality agreements as the problem. However, Arizona may hopefully be positioning to change this.
State Representative Maria Syms, a Republican from Paradise Valley, is saying enough is enough.
Last week Syms proposed legislation that would make confidentiality agreements regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault essentially ‘unenforceable’. Confidentiality agreements, also referred to as the ‘sexual predator loophole’, prevent victims from speaking out against their abusers.
By addressing confidentiality agreements, the state is sending a message to sexual predators that officials and institutions can’t buy their way out of criminal responsibility by silencing victims through contracts.
The draft legislation outlines that any agreements attempting to hide information regarding sexual assault or sexual harassment be rendered useless under state policy. This would not prevent victims from deciding to enter into confidentiality agreements as a method of settling quickly and quietly. This legislation, however, would ensure that if victims later on decided to come forward, they would be protected from their alleged predator.
It remains important to have conversations that address sexual assault and sexual harassment as a way to bring about change. That’s why #MeToo is one of the great civil and gender rights issues of our time. By altering confidentiality agreements, the state, for once, will be restoring credibility in the institutions and offices that are designed to maintain the public welfare and trust.
Lawmakers will discuss the proposal when the legislature reconvenes in January. Kudos to Rep. Syms for leading the way.