A growing understanding of the multi-dimensional nature of domestic violence and sexual assault crimes has spurred significant changes in the awareness, investigation and prosecution of these crimes. Victim's advocates, rape crisis centers and criminal justice practitioners continue to work to ease the burdens placed on victims.
At the same time, many individuals in Montana communities still lack the education and understanding to protect victim's rights. Myths about rape are pervasive and attitudes critical of victims continue to be obstacles to more effective criminal prosecution.
It should go without saying that elected officials need to abstain from any public commentary on the legal issues of their constituents. This is especially true in the cases of rape and domestic violence. When an elected official uses their considerable platform to weigh in on a legal case, especially a case involving domestic violence or sexual assault, their words and statements have real weight in the community and can significantly undermine a victim's civil and constitutional rights.
It's difficult enough for a victim of assault to step forward, even in 2021, and when an elected official uses their name and the power of their voice and position to silence and shame victims, an individual's rights can be grossly violated. A more prudent approach would be to stay silent until the issue is legally resolved.
Elected officials should avoid the appearance of impropriety or any attempts to affect a legal proceeding, especially in cases where a sexual or domestic assault victim may have already faced the potentially harsh maze of the criminal justice system.
I encourage all elected officials across the state to abstain completely from the practice of weighing in on any ongoing legal issues of their constituents, considering severely that doing so can potentially re-traumatize individuals and undermine their fundamental rights.