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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Women’s groups back Burke after councilwoman publishes online reply

After details of a cease-and-desist letter were published in The Spokesman-Review Wednesday, Spokane City Councilwoman Kate Burke urged women and others being hurt to continue speaking up, offering to speak for them if they aren’t ready.

Women, along with minorities, LGBTQ individuals, the working class, students, the homeless, and victims of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, are among those “left out of the conversation and out in the cold,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “The critical and sometimes complex issues these groups raise are often avoided in favor of topics that are politically ‘safer’ and easier to deal with.”

Burke deserves support for protecting the rights of women and holding a local organization accountable, the National Organization of Women’s Spokane Chapter and Women’s March Washington State said in a joint statement Thursday.

“We need to believe women,” the two organizations said in the statement. “Once we stop blaming women for the way men act, we can have justice.”

As reported Wednesday, Burke received cease-and-desist letters from a Spokane nonprofit organization and one of its employees after raising concerns about information she received that the employee was a “sexual predator.” According to the letters, she reportedly told the nonprofit it could lose city funding for employing him.

The employee denied the allegation but resigned after the allegations arose.

The newspaper is not naming the former employee, or the organization, because it has no firsthand confirmations of the behavior. Burke said she couldn’t talk about the case because of the cease and desist letters and the advice provided by the city’s legal department.

The women’s groups said victims who are afraid to speak up need someone to speak for them, and accused the newspaper of a “biased article akin to the days when a woman who spoke up for herself was considered hysterical and committed to an asylum.”

On Wednesday, Burke posted a statement on her Facebook page that said she had a simple goal: “The system was not working for women and I wanted to fix it.”

She said she would continue to work with them and urged them to “keep speaking your truth and sharing your story,” adding those who aren’t ready should reach out to her.

The organization received $30,000 in federal block grants through a city contract that expires this summer. But the Spokane City Council has no plans to investigate any allegations against the organization or its former employee.

“Nothing in the City Charter says we have that authority. That isn’t the council’s role,” Council President Ben Stuckart said. “We’re a legislative body. We don’t monitor contracts.”

If someone is breaking the law or injuring others, the victims should be contacting the police, he said. While the council takes accusations seriously, it’s not in a position to be judge and jury, he added.