25th Congressional District candidates discuss sexual assault

Dozens wait outside the venue holding a depae between Katie Hill and Steve Knight in Palmdale on Thursday. Crystal Duan/ The Signal

With the signing of the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense Appropriations Act on Sept. 28, provisions of a bill authored by Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, passed $2 million in appropriated funds to support a pilot sexual trauma treatment program for members of the military.

The provisions are from the Sexual Trauma Response and Treatment (START) Act, which Knight introduced this year.

The funding is planned for establishing a pilot program within the Department of Defense to provide intensive outpatient programs to military service members who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder related to military sexual trauma.

Knight said his incentive for introducing the program came from his background as a former police officer, which meant he had taken many cases involving domestic violence and sexual assault.

“I dealt with sexual assault all the time and going out to calls and making sure women were taken away from abuse situations,” he said. “A good portion of police work is handling calls like that. This START Act fits into what I’ve done for a lot of years.”

Knight said sexual assault in the military happened a lot, and his work with veterans naturally led to him introducing the bill. He was optimistic for an increase in funding.

“Working with the NDAA, we want to make sure we put amendments in to not just help military be a better fighting force, but be better all around at taking care of those issues,” he said. “I think this is going to be a very good example of how we can correct some of this and how we can help some young women in difficult situations.”

Katie Hill, Knight’s challenger in the 25th Congressional District race, said she supports Knight’s act because it provides help for those in the military.

“However,” she said. “Steve Knight has failed to advocate for or support trauma and assault survivors in many other ways, inside or outside of the military, including his opposition to a woman’s right to choose, even in the case of rape. Survivors of assault need an advocate always, not just in specific circumstances.”

Hill said she believed that Congress needed to be working toward holistic solutions for issues primarily impacting women, like equal pay, domestic violence, paid leave and access to comprehensive health care, which she believed Knight had not done in voting to defund organizations such as Planned Parenthood.

Knight said that issues he’d seen in his work with the LAPD, including with opioid abuse as well as sexual assault, had become hot button topics now.

“It’s good that people are talking about these issues, because that gets others talking that might not have ever dealt with it before,” he said. “And that’s how you get more people in Congress to be involved. You might see these issues for a long time and the country doesn’t get up in arms until it gets to an epidemic level, but being in law enforcement you see a lot of those things and you had to deal with them. This is a call that will happen to a police officer or deputy that happens weekly. This is something that is of the utmost importance to the country.”

Hill recently held a private forum inviting female constituents in the district to come forward with their stories about sexual assault, in light of a national discussion centering around Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and testimony by Christine Blasey Ford alleging that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her as a teenager.

If she were elected to Congress, Hill said her biggest legislative priority would be ensuring students in the education system were taught consent.

“California has some of the strongest sex education requirements of any state in the nation, yet many of the young people in my district have voiced that consent education is only taught once throughout their entire schooling,” she said. “(At the forum,) I heard from 15-year-old girls who are frustrated that they haven’t been taught consent in school, are scared of attending parties with their classmates and devastated that the boys in their schools have role models on the federal level that normalize assault and harassment. Comprehensive sex education that teaches consent from a young age will go a long way to shifting the assault and harassment that has been normalized for far too long.”

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