By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,

During the first public safety hearing back from summer recess for the D.C. Council on Sept. 18, a young woman shared her experience with sexual assault and the criminal legal system.

“I was sexually assaulted in my high school bathroom in my first year of high school. I went through the whole criminal legal process,” said Afeni Evans, of Harriet’s Wildest Dreams. “The person that harmed me pleaded guilty and the prosecutors, the detectives– they made it seem like that was supposed to make me feel better –but to be honest, all that did was re-traumatize me.”

Evans stated that there is a general lack of empathy within the criminal legal system for sexual assault in her experience. This is what the introduction of 23-345, “Accountability and Victim Protection Amendment Act of 2023” and 25-348, the “Ensuring Safe Forensic Evidence Handling for Sexual Assault Survivors Amendment Act of 2023” is trying to address.

“Each of these bills is aimed at addressing issues that we’ve been seeing recently as part of the spike in both violent crime and property crime in the District of Columbia,” said Brooke Pinto, chairwoman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. “The Accountability and Victim Protection Amendment Act of 2023 is the product of conversations I had with the U.S. Attorney’s Office about gaps that we’re seeing in our criminal laws that are making it difficult to respond to certain crimes and hold people accountable when they harm other community members.”

Pinto highlighted that the bill will create a standalone felony offense for strangulation, recognizing strangulation as a key indicator of domestic violence that can turn deadly. This provision is currently  law through the emergency bills passed prior to summer recess in July. 

“The bill also provides for progressive sentencing for serial misdemeanor sex offenders. Right now, individuals who have repeatedly engaged in misdemeanor sexual abuse are only subject to a maximum of 180 days imprisonment,” said Pinto. “This change increases the maximum sentence to three years for individuals with one or more prior convictions for misdemeanor sexual abuse.”

Community members and leaders once again showed up to testify against the expansion of charges and elongating detainment periods. detainment and creating more offense.

“Increasing pretrial detention makes us less safe. Pretrial detention, even just two or three days, especially for young people, substantially increases the risk they will reoffend,” said Mister Wringler of Civil Rights Corps. “Pretrial detention also drives poverty. Poverty in turn drives crime.”

Evans also believes that funding the community and supporting everyone involved in the matter will help move D.C. effectively forward.

“Accountability does not have to be cruel and unusual. Accountability can and should be a closed-loop process that properly supports all parties involved in the harm,” said Evans. “If we want to keep D.C. safer then we should make housing more affordable and fund Harm Reduction Centers. We should get to the root of the many socio-economic issues.”

One resident spoke in approval of the Accountability and Victim Protection Amendment Act of 2023.

“When people speak of Black and Brown people being patrolled by the police. They fail to mention that Black and Brown people commit vicious crimes against Black and Brown people,” said Sandra Seegars, resident of Ward 8. “Criminal laws to arrest criminals and getting criminals off the street is just that– getting unsavory characters off the street. A criminal can very well be rehabilitated while incarcerated. Not on the street where they can commit more crime.”

Additionally, 25-167, the “Wheel-Lock Help Incentive Program Act of 2023” and 25-343, the “Private Security Camera System Incentive Program Small Business Expansion Amendment Act of 2023” were also addressed.

Tashi McQueen is a Report For America Corps Member.