January 31, 2020

Rise Spotlight:

Guide: Committee Hearing Testimony

Step One: Draft Your Testimony

During a committee hearing, the committee members will see testimony by community members who are in favor of (and possibly in opposition of) the proposed bill. Your testimony is an opportunity to encourage committee members to support the Survivors’ Bill of Rights, explain why they should pass the bill, and inform them why it means so much to you.

This testimony is an opportunity to share as much or as little of your story as you feel appropriate –– remember that you have no obligation to disclose any information that you do not feel comfortable sharing.

The testimony should be approximately 500 words in length, and it should last between 2 to 5 minutes when read alone. Certain committees enforce time limits on witness testimony more strictly than others.

Your testimony should begin with a variation on the following clause:

“Thank you Chairman ________, Ranking Member ____________,  and Members of the Judiciary Committee for being here today and allowing me to address you.”

This is a customary remark, builds a polite rapport with the committee members you are addressing, and demonstrates that you are adequately prepared for the hearing.

Here are a few examples of Risers’ past testimonies:

This legislation was born from my experience with a broken justice system. I am a rape survivor. I remember walking into the local area rape crisis center waiting room and seeing so many survivors there. The greatest injustice I have ever faced was not the act of rape itself, but the subsequent denial of my rights by the country I love. I grew up believing that America is special because it recognizes universal, inalienable rights. But as a rape survivor, I learned that not all are equal in the eyes of the law. Survivors are continually re- victimized by the very system that was built to seek justice for them. It’s completely unconscionable that a survivor in one state would have a completely different set of rights than a survivor in another state. In building a legal argument for why I deserve to know where the DNA samples taken from my body were stored, I found a patchwork of rights across America. Two survivors shouldn’t have two completely different sets of rights just because they are in two different states. Justice should not depend on geography.

My story with a broken system is not mine alone. This is also the story of 2 million other women in this state. In California, one out of every five adult women has been the victim of rape. Current California code could allow for a rape kit to be destroyed after only two years, even though California has no statute of limitations for most sexual offenses.

In facing these disparities, I realized I had a choice. Accept the injustice or re-write the law. So, I, along with an incredible team, wrote the federal Survivor Bill of Rights. Now it is Federal law and Massachusetts law. I’m going to be honest. Talking about something so personal is scary. But I’m sharing this because I hope you see the importance of these civil rights and I hope that you join us to champion these rights in California.

(331 words)

Thank you Chairman, Ranking Member, Vice Chairman and Members of the Judiciary Committee, thank you for joining us today and allowing me to address you.

I testified against my abuser in January 2018, and he went to prison for the rest of his life. I went back to mine. Days after Larry Nassar was sentenced, I was sexually assaulted again––this time, by an intimate partner. It was, as I hope you can understand, too much. I became anxious, explosive, intensely sensitive to any criticism or question. My grades plummeted. I sobbed night after night and begged my parents, a puffy shell of a person covered with my own tears and snot, to let me go.

As this time passed, I met more and more victims with heart-shattering stories. Last year in Seattle, I met a survivor who was turned away from a hospital when she asked for a rape kit. Last week in Tennessee, I met a Riser who had to contact her State Representative to even find her rape kit.

It is a miracle that I am sitting here today. It’s a miracle that any survivor is strong enough to carry the burden that this trauma brings. I’m still coming to terms with what happened to me at twelve years old, and I’m still reckoning with what happened to me in 2018. All that I know is that when I fell through the cracks in the system, I found strength and solidarity in the arms of other survivors.

I urge this committee to pass SB 326, because justice for sexual assault victims in the state of Wisconsin is my justice, too.

(272 words)

Once you’ve written your draft testimony, Rise recommends practicing it out loud and reading it in front of a mirror––if possible, we also recommend reading it out loud in front of a trusted friend. It can be an extremely emotional, nerve-wracking, and vulnerable exercise to share your testimony; that’s why making sure you’re mentally and emotionally prepared to read it in front of others is important.

Step Two: Prepare for Questions

While it is unlikely that you will receive post-testimony questions related to the substantive qualities of the bill, it can be helpful to think over potential questions from committee members and your potential answers.

Here are a list of questions to consider:

It is important that you maintain polite, gracious, and composed whilst responding to any questions from committee members––even if the question feels unfair or irrelevant. Always thank the legislator for their question, in advance of providing your answer.

There are two other elements of preparation that can help you maintain focus after providing your testimony.

What is your Commander’s Intent (CI)?

What is your Pivot?

Commander’s Intent is the ultimate goal of your testimony. If you feel frazzled during or after your testimony, or if you blank out on something small, you can always return to your CI.

Preparing and practicing a Pivot has been extremely helpful to previous Risers that testified in front of committees. A Pivot is a statement that you can use if a question arises that you do not know the answer to or that confuses you; it effectively acknowledges the legitimacy of the question, thanks the committee member for the question, and then *pivots* the responsibility of answering to another witness. Oftentimes this is your bill sponsor or another member of the Rise team.

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