Working in the States to Create Change for Survivors

Stefan Turkheimer joined RAINN in 2021 as the director of state legislative affairs. Before he joined RAINN, he worked as a chief of staff for a state senator, and as a lawyer and prosecutor. As a political strategist, he's worked across the nation from California to South Carolina. He sat down with RAINNews’ Sierra Scott to talk about RAINN’s state policy goals over the coming year.

What brought you to RAINN as the director of state legislative affairs?

Having worked in state, local, and federal politics, I am passionate about the direct impact that state laws have in making the lives better for regular people. So much happens in state legislatures, and having worked for state legislators, I know how important and impactful partnerships with advocacy organizations on complex issues can be. Sexual violence hurts millions of Americans, and across the country, the laws are inadequate to protect those that need our help. The cause is noble, the work is just, and sorely needed. It’s a righteous fight, and I am glad to be in it alongside everyone here.

What are your personal goals for the next year?

In every state we go into, in every legislative chamber committee room, my goal is to advocate for people who can’t be there, whose voices would otherwise not be heard. My goal is to leave those places with the people of that state knowing that we fought for them.

What states is the Public Policy team working in and what are we hoping to pass this year?

Proactively, this year we are in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Virginia, and Wisconsin. We are also monitoring legislation across the entire country, looking for bills that we can help along, fix, or try to stop. For this year, we want to eliminate statutes of limitations for sexual assault at the state level so that survivors won’t be time-limited in their pursuit of justice. We also want to update laws on incapacitation so that survivors can see their experience reflected in the state code instead of victim blaming. Many state laws outlaw sexually assaulting someone who has been incapacitated through intoxication - but only if the survivor was intoxicated involuntarily. We want to see laws that place the blame on the assailant instead of blaming the victim for the sexual assault because they had been drinking or taken drugs. In addition, we want law enforcement to receive trauma-informed victim interview training, and to have states adequately fund sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) programs so that survivors can find medical assistance when they need it. And that’s just some of what we are fighting for in the states.

What does it mean to you to develop and maintain state legislative partnerships with key state officials, state agencies, and state-level stakeholders and how can we continue to strengthen these relationships?

In state legislatures, so much gets done based on trusting relationships.Legislators, staff, advocates, everyone has to know that you will provide accurate and timely information, you will follow through, and you will keep your word. If you do that, and work toward shared goals, you will enrich those relationships, so that the next time you call, that partner is already suited up and ready to go.

Eight out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone who knows the victim.

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