The White Plains Examiner

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin on the Women’s Equality Act and Victim’s Rights

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NYS Assemblywoman Amy Paulin
NYS Assemblywoman Amy Paulin

Slowly, but surely, New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) is making strides in the ongoing struggle to help women who are victims of violence and to move forward the stalled Women’s Equality Act, a 10-point bill that addresses issues such as equal pay, preventing sexual harassment, stopping pregnancy discrimination and fighting human trafficking.

While lawmakers and candidates of both parties generally agree on nine points, it is the portion related to reproductive rights that has been the source of controversy.

Under New York’s abortion law, which was passed in 1970, a woman is not protected if there is a serious complication that jeopardizes her health later in pregnancy. The state’s law only provides protection if a woman’s life is in danger.

Thinking she had enough votes and support during the Legislature’s last session, Paulin was stunned when the bill did not go through because of the abortion clause.

Determined to bring closure, Paulin has begun work to push portions of her legislation through one piece at a time.

Recently she had several successes with human trafficking legislation in getting young women, mostly teenagers, viewed as victims in the courts and not criminals when charged with prostitution. Contending that if the age of consent is 18 years, then it should not matter whether money was exchanged. “These girls are victims. Rape is rape,” she said in a recent interview with The White Plains Examiner.

Paulin began the fight back in early 1994 when she was contacted by the executive director of My Sisters Place who was putting together a task force of women to fight domestic violence. At the time Paulin was the President of the Westchester League of Women Voters.

Just prior, on December 31, 1993, the publishing heiress Anne Scripps Douglas was murdered by her husband Scott Douglas in Bronxville.

“We became aware for the first time that domestic violence did not discriminate against you because you were affluent,” Paulin said, adding that at the time the laws were so different from what they are now. “Possibly at the same point that we are now with human trafficking to some degree,” she explained.

There were a lot of errors in the courts at the time and the task force Paulin joined decided to go to the chief judge in the state of New York, who happened to be a woman, to see what could be done.

For example, just prior to her murder Anne Scripps Douglas had obtained an order of protection from her husband but the judgment did not require that her husband leave the house, and she was murdered three weeks later,” Paulin said. “Its all court related. The judge she had was not educated on domestic violence.”

In Albany we wanted to see if the judges could become more educated and sensitive to the issues of domestic violence, Paulin remembered.

This was the beginning of massive changes in the New York court system and Paulin went on to found the Westchester Women’s Agenda, which advocated for supervised visitation of abused women.

This led to her running and winning a seat on the State Assembly where she immediately crafted two laws to lengthen the orders of protection for women.

“How do we change things?” Paulin asked. “One of the things we had to think about was how men think about women. We can’t demean them. I became the domestic violence legislator.”

In 2006, Paulin became involved in human trafficking. “I had no idea what it was at the time,” she said. “Again we formed a task force.”

Becoming more involved in writing legislation, Paulin wrote the NYS Anti-Trafficking Bill that became law in 2007 and became the model for the rest of the country. That law defined human trafficking and created penalties against it.

“We made it easier for the district attorneys to prosecute against these terrible perpetrators,” she explained. “And that led to the rape bill, where we were able to extend the statute of limitations.”

Later in 2008, Paulin wrote the amendment that 14 and 15 year old girls picked up for prostitution should be viewed as victims. Just this month the law was updated to ensure that 16 and 17-year-old girls picked up for prostitution not be viewed as criminals.

In 2011, the same group of women that had been working with Paulin on the Human Trafficking Bill came back and said the law needed to be strengthened; that the perpetrators had to be imprisoned longer and more aid had to be given to the victims.

“We wanted it on the books that it is a violent crime to rape a little girl 25 times a night,” Paulin explained. “It was an affirmative defense if a guy said: ‘I thought she was 18,’ allowing men to get off for raping a 14-year-old. Once we were in the world of prosecuting these guys we saw things that needed to be changed.”

In 2013, Governor Cuomo presented the Ten Point Women’s Act. “In the end at least five of the points were mine,” Paulin said. “There was probably too much to do with too little time, and the same issues carried forward into 2014.”

Looking at what we can get done now, everything in women’s rights has been incremental, Paulin said. “If we get a Pro-Choice senate we can probably get everything passed Paulin contends. “We don’t know what we will have after this election. I will continue the battle.”

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