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Anti-Rape Proposal Gains Support In Council

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Anti-Rape Proposal Gains Support In Council

Vote-splitting isn't commonly associated with the Republicans in this city, but when it happened at City Council on Monday, March 18, it brought an initial victory for an anti-rape resolution proposed by the HRP.

By a 6-5 vote, with Stephenson and McCormick supporting the Dems and HRP, the resolution was scheduled for a special session and public hearing at Council on March 25. The proposal will be reviewed by the City Administrator this week for budget consideration, and will be acted on by Council next Monday night.

The anti-rape program proposed by the HRP consists of four basic components: a Policy-Advisory Board, an all-female Rape Unit, a policy designed to reduce the incidence of rape, and recommendations to the State Legislature on changing current laws dealing with rape.

"The HRP is proposing this legislation tonight because we are tired of the city and members of City Council trying to disregard the seriousness of the growing rape problem in Ann Arbor," said Diana Autin, female chairperson of the HRP city committee.

The problem of rape in Ann Arbor has been rapidly increasing, from eleven reported rapes in 1968 to forty-two in 1972, making the Ann Arbor metropolitan area first in the state for reported incidents of rape.

But despite the number of reports, conviction rates have actually dropped from 5 out of 11 in 1968 to only 1 out of 42 in 1972. Because of society's attitudes towards rape, and the humiliation and abuse of the rape victim, few rapists are ever found guilty.

How the Law Works

While City Council can do little to change State and Federal laws which allow such practices as allowing a woman's past sexual history to be admissible as evidence in court, or requiring a woman to resist totally in order to prosecute a case, this program will allow women who have been raped to be treated more humanely in Ann Arbor.

The proposal sets up a new procedure to be used in dealing with rape victims. The first step is the establishment of a Policy-Advisory Board, consisting of two women police officers, two members appointed by the Women's Crisis Center, and one woman from each of the three political parties. The Board is responsible for establishing programs to reduce the incidence of rape, counseling City Council and the Police Department on matters regarding rape, and appointing the female head of the Anti-Rape Unit, who would also become a member of the Board.

The Anti-Rape Unit would be composed of six other women, hired through the usual police procedures and approved by the Policy-Advisory Board. Because a higher proportion of non-white women are raped than white women, two members of the unit must be black. The Unit would be in charge of the investigation of all rape cases, and one member is required to be on duty at all times to deal with rape victims. The proposal also requires that a Women's Crisis Center interventionist be called in to help protect the victim's physical and emotional needs, and that a woman be allowed to have anyone with her throughout the initial questioning.

"Because the Rape Unit would be composed entirely of women," said Autin, "the officers would be more understanding of and sympathetic to the trauma of the rape victim and the need to ensure that she suffered as little as possible from initial questioning and confusion concerning what was happening to her."

The proposal also requires the city to pay for the required initial medical exam, as well as any additional medical expenses incurred as a result of the rape. The Rape Unit is responsible for setting up educational programs about rape and the Unit's work, as well as working on preventative programs such as self-defense classes for women.

Action at the State Level

The resolution contains a section which urges the State Legislature to pass the legislation proposed by the Michigan Task Force on Rape now before both the House and the Senate (see story on opposite page for more details).

"This bill would make sure that facts concerning the past sexual behavior of the rape victim would have no bearing on her possible consent to the rape or her truthfulness as a witness," explained Autin. "The bill would also eliminate the section in the current rape law that requires women to resist "to the utmost." A victim of rape would only have to show that she resisted as much as was reasonable taking into account the danger she was in. Although we want to emphasize prevention of rape rather than punishment, we feel that these steps are essential to provide fair treatment of rape victims."

Playing Politics on Women's Bodies

While the HRP had been working for the last ten months on this proposal, with many of the suggestions coming from the Women's Crisis Center, there had been some opposition to introducing legislation in a partisan manner. Because of the Republican's traditional opposition to any HRP proposals, there was fear that it would be defeated.

Council Republicans were not eager to take immediate action on the resolution. While Stephenson had voiced support at the beginning of the Council meeting, both Hadler and Benner had been quoted in the Michigan Daily as opposing the resolution.

The Republicans made their move when Colburn immediately moved the resolution be referred to the city administrator because of the budget implications.

Councilmember Carol Jones complained that this move did not guarantee that any action would be taken. "It makes no commitment on your part," she told Republicans. "You have done nothing but make vague promises."

"If you think something needs to be done," said Wechsler, "vote for it tonight."

But Council Republicans seemed more concerned about the city budget than women's safety. "The city administrator may have trouble with this." said HadIer. "This city is committed to a program of debt repayment."

But the surprise move of the evening came when both McCormick and Stephenson supported Jerry DeGrieck's suggestion that the proposal be brought back to Council in one week for action. The proposal now faces a good chance of passing, with the Republicans being forced to respond to the pressure by women of all parties in support of stronger anti-rape legislation. And with elections only a week away, no party can afford to alienate all the city's female voters.

If you are concerned with this proposal, call or write to the members of Council, particularly the Republicans. And come to Council on Monday, March 25, for the public hearing to urge Council to pass this resolution.

-- Ellen Hoffman