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Caucus wants compassion for female victims, inmates

The state Legislature's women's group aims to let prisoners give birth without handcuffs

By Chris Mikesell

LAST UPDATED: 2:19 a.m. HST, Feb 4, 2011

Hospitals would be barred from denying care to rape victims who refuse to undergo forensic examinations under a proposal being pushed by the Women's Legislative Caucus in the state Legislature.

"It's a standard of care and it's the right thing to do," state Sen. Rosalyn Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena) said Thursday during a news conference at the state Capitol. "If we in Hawaii cannot stand up and make sure women who have been assaulted have the best possible care available to them as a matter of course, not a matter of geography, then we've been missing the boat."

"Compassion" was the theme as the group unveiled its list of 15 legislative priorities. The package contained bills that would remove the statute of limitations from the prosecution of rape cases and include voyeurs on the state's sex offender registry.

One proposal would fund programs to keep expectant mothers off dangerous drugs, such as crystal methamphetamine. Another bill would encourage the reintegration of female former substance abusers into the community.

Also on the Women's Caucus' list is a bill that would prohibit employers from discriminating against women who are victims of domestic abuse.

Baker said she came across several instances on Maui in late 2009 in which female employees who had good records and good evaluations were fired when their employers became aware of the restraining orders they had against their attackers.

"I was horrified," Baker said. "I just thought that was against the law anyway, that it was something that wasn't done."

As the law stands now, Baker said, there is no specific statute that prevents employers from firing employees if they become victims of domestic violence.

The caucus also proposed a bill that would require the state to stop handcuffing pregnant inmates while they are in labor.

Hawaii is one of 40 states that allow female inmates to be handcuffed while giving birth in state prison, according to a study published last year by the Rebecca Project for Human Rights.

"Handcuffing a woman to a gynecological table while she's either giving birth or being examined seems to me to be not only dangerous, but the ultimate degradation," said Ann Freed, co-chairwoman of the Hawaii Women's Coalition. "What's she going to do, get up and run away?"

CORRECTION: A bill supported by the Women's Legislative Caucus that calls for accepted standards of care for rape victims would require hospitals to provide emergency contraception. A previous version of this story said the bill would bar hospitals from denying care to rape victims who refuse to undergo forensic exams, but did not mention the emergency contraception requirement

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