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Important legislation introduced in Washington, DC

In News stories | on 04.17.12 | by | Comments ( 2 )

L to R: Holly Kearl, Chai Shenoy, Council Member Muriel Bowser, Ben Merrion

YAY!! I’ve got great news. New legislation introduced in Washington, DC, will make it easier for police to take action when a person has committed “the offense of misdemeanor sexual abuse, misdemeanor sexual abuse of a child or minor, or lewd, indecent, or obscene acts.” This applies to the public transportation system and the streets and so if it passes, it’s more likely that a person flashing or engaging in public masturbation will face penalty.

Background: Over the last several weeks, I’ve been part of a team at Collective Action for Safe Spaces pressuring the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) to do more about sexual harassment and assault on the Washington, DC-area transportation system. We testified in February before the DC City Council, specifically before Ward 4 City Council Member Muriel Bowser. Bowser was very disturbed by the information we shared with her and asked WMATA to address it. Thankfully, WMATA is addressing it.

Early on in our collaboration with WMATA, we found out from transit police that they have limitations in making arrests. For example, verbal sexual harassment, unless it’s a threat, is not a criminal offense (but for the first time, WMATA is finally tracking it to look for patterns, etc) so they cannot do anything about it (this is true most places in the USA and cause for future legislative work). We also found out that since Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, all have varying laws around harassment, the transit police are limited in what they can do. They are bound by the laws of whichever area the crime takes place since the transit system spans all three areas. In Maryland, people who engage in indecent and obscene behavior (public masturbation, flashing) can be arrested without the officer having to witness it occurring. In DC and VA, the police need to witness it occurring (!!!) before they can do anything.

Once we found out about this limitation in the law, we informed Council Member Bowser. She was not aware of this limitation either and she said she’d investigate it. So the good news is she upheld that promise and has introduced legislation to ensure that in Washington, DC, an officer does not have to observe the indecent exposure occurring to take action. As Collective Action for Safe Spaces says, “Although we do NOT support more people getting arrested, we do want Metro to be safe for all, and not have to watch individuals doing obscene things while staring at you.”

The Bill:
Councilmember Muriel Bowser





To amend section 23-581 of the District of Columbia Official Code to enhance enforcement of the indecent exposure law by allowing police officers to arrest suspects without a warrant when officers have probable cause to believe that suspects have committed lewd, indecent, or obscene acts.

act may be cited as the “Sexual Harassment Prevention Act of 2012”.

Sec. 2. Section 23-581 of the District of Columbia Official Code is amended as follows:
(a) Subsection (a-7) (D.C. Official Code § 23-581(a-7)) is amended to read as follows:
“(a-7) A law enforcement officer may arrest a person without a warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed the offense of misdemeanor sexual abuse, misdemeanor sexual abuse of a child or minor, or lewd, indecent, or obscene acts as provided in sections 22-3006, 22-3010.01, and 22-1312.”
Sec. 3. Fiscal impact statement.
The Council adopts the fiscal impact statement of the Budget Director as the fiscal impact statement required by section 602(c)(3) b of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, approved December 24, 1973 (87 Stat. 813; D.C. Official Code § 1-206.02(c)(3)).
Sec. 4. Effective date.
This act shall take effect following approval by the Mayor (or in the event of veto by the Mayor, action by the Council to override the veto), and a 30-day period of congressional review as provided in Section 602(c)(1) of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, approved December 24, 1973 (87 Stat. 813; D.C. Official Code §1-206(c)(1)), and publication in the District of Columbia Register.

It’s exciting that the bill will apply to acts that occur off the transit system too — it applies to acts committed anywhere in Washington, DC. If passed, the legislation will give more protection to victims and ensure that perpetrators are more likely to face punishment for their crimes.

The bill has been referred to Council Member Mendelson’s Committee on the Judiciary.  They need to hold a hearing and then vote on it in a separate mark-up hearing.  The full Council then has to vote on it twice to be submitted to the Mayor for signature.

So, there are still several steps to go, but the first step is done: the legislation was written and introduced!!! Thank you, Council Member Bowser!

Update: Here’s a Washington Examiner article on the proposed bill.

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2 Responses


This is so exciting and it proves a few food women can change the world! Thank you sisters!


This is really amazing!! One person (or a few people) can really make a difference!

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