At a recent rally to support the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), I was moved by a speaker who addressed the crowd and revealed that she was a survivor of abuse. I was impressed with her ability to use her personal experience to motivate change and improvements for all women, and I would like to do the same for college women specifically.
I am a survivor of sexual assault, perpetrated by a fellow university student who was employed as my residential adviser at the time. I made the unpopular decision to report this incident to my university to try to pursue justice. I was granted a “sexual misconduct” hearing, which is the name used on campuses that do not want to admit to having abusers or rapists among their student populations. My anger over this title was dwarfed, however, by the combination of incompetent officers who oversaw my trial. I was interrogated, demeaned, and blamed during questioning, despite the fact that I attend a very liberal university. While the vice president who oversaw my appeal did acknowledge that my hearing was mishandled, the college’s solution was to run through the entire, sickening experience again with different faculty.
To this day, I am stunned by the way my hearing unfolded. Fortunately, after I alerted the leadership at my college about how terribly my trial was handled, the process improved for those survivors who reported incidents after me. Still, it shouldn’t take any student feeling mistreated during her pursuit of justice to make a school wake up and realize that its system is inadequate. That is why we need to support Campus SaVE Act (H.R. 2016/S.843), a bill included in the Senate version of VAWA (which was stripped from the House version) that improves campus support for those who experience sexual violence.
Stories like mine are not uncommon, but they can be greatly reduced with support for the Campus SaVE Act. Congress must reauthorize a version of VAWA with critical provisions such as Campus SaVE so that college students can get the help they need after incidents of sexual assault. Whether someone decides to come forward, pursue a legal route, seek out justice within the university system, or simply receive medical and psychological help, they need access to assistance within their college. Without Campus SaVE, survivors of sexual assault are unlikely to receive timely and comprehensive help, even at some of the most progressive universities.
For those of you who have experienced violence on a college campus, you too can advocate for critical campus provisions in a final VAWA bill signing onto this letter. I also urge everyone to contact your Representative and Senators today to advocate for this provision and help students both prevent and address sexual assault in a more sensitive, systematic way.