The attempted rape in a women’s room at the King County courthouse on Thursday is the culmination of a pattern of gender-based violence that has revealed the urgent need for improved safety precautions.
Women employees of King County and supporters will hold a march this Friday at noon at the King County Administration Building in solidarity with those who have been attacked and anyone who has to work, serve on juries, testify as a witness, or conduct legal business in the unsafe environment of the King County courthouse.
Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) will attend the march and address the work the Legislature has done, as well as the work that remains to be done, to make workplaces safe and welcoming for all.
“Public spaces like our courthouse should be free from gender-based violence—that is a basic human right,” said Dhingra, who chairs the Senate Behavioral Health Committee and is vice chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee.
In the same hallway, in 1995, three women were shot to death by a man after they testified in court about his abusive actions. That attack led to the installation of metal detectors in the courthouse and to a yearly candlelight vigil commemorating the victims.
“For years, employees who work in the courthouse have raised security concerns and no one seems to care,” said Heidi Parkington-Thal, human resources director at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. “We ask witnesses, victims and jurors to come to the courthouse even though we know it is not safe. All of us deserve to be safe in the place where justice is supposed to be done. When women are safe, everyone is safe.”
Women employees and courthouse visitors report being spit on while walking to the train, intimidated while waiting for the bus, assaulted on Third Avenue, and harassed in the elevators.
“Women already have monumental barriers in the workplace,” said Wyman Yip, assistant chief deputy of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. “Physical safety and sense of safety shouldn’t be on that list of barriers. Period.”
In 2018, the Legislature passed laws protecting survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence from employment discrimination (HB 2661) and protecting the ability of sexual assault and sexual harassment survivors in the workplace to take legal action (SB 6313).
“During the Covid pandemic, we saw huge numbers of women leaving the workforce because workplaces are systematically less friendly to women,” said Dhingra. “From a lack of childcare to unsafe conditions, women face many barriers in the workplace that the Legislature has been committed to dismantling.”
This year the Washington State Legislature took significant steps to provide safer, more welcoming workplaces for women, including:
- SB 5237, the Fair Start for Kids Act, dramatically expands access and affordability for state childcare and early learning programs. When fully implemented, this will increase access to Working Connections Child Care by approximately 15,400 slots. Improvements include expanding childcare eligibility to reach the middle class, making copayments affordable, expanding the Early Care and Education Program, and improving childcare system design.
- SB 5190 and SB 5115, the Health Emergency Labor Standards Act, provide presumptive workers’ compensation coverage for essential workers, who are disproportionately women, during a public health emergency and require that employers report workplace outbreaks to employees and to the state Department of Labor & Industries.
- HB 1073 ensures workers who lose hours during pandemic closures can still qualify for earned paid family or medical leave.
- SB 5097 expands the definition of a family member for the purposes of paid family and medical leave to ensure more workers can use the program to bond with a baby or take care of a sick family member.