Perspective: Information and resources addressing sexual assault

CONTENT WARNING: descriptions of sexual assault and forensic exams regarding assaults and rape.

In any given school year, about 58% of students in 7th to 12th grade experience sexual harassment. 1 in 5 female high school students report being sexually assaulted and 1 in 8 girls in highschool report being raped. These numbers only reflect the instances of sexual assault that end up being reported.

The true number of instances is higher. But why not report? Although reasons can range from fear of the justice system to fear of reprisal, many victims of sexual assault simply don’t report their experiences because they don’t know how.

At the end of November, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend the annual summit on sexual assault and consent hosted by Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C. The summit featured over 50 workshops and I was able to attend discussions regarding topics ranging from the objectification of black and brown bodies to grappling with the condoning of rape in religious texts. One workshop that especially stood out to me was a workshop led by Christeen Badie, Program Manager of D.C Forensic Nurse Examiners (DCFNE) and Gilda Goldenthal, Bilingual Case Manager for Network for Victim Recovery D.C. (NVRDC). Although the workshop was less than an hour, I learned an overwhelming amount of information regarding the resources available to survivors of rape and sexual misconduct in Washington, D.C. 

Sadly, the odds are that many people reading this have either experienced some form of sexual harassment or have talked to someone who has. In these situations, survivors often feel stuck and defeated. Taking further action in a safe, affordable and confidential way seems like it is not an option. However, this workshop proved that this is far from the reality. 

 My initial reaction when learning about the abundance of resources available to victims in the Washington, D.C area was feelings of astonishment and disbelief. Despite having countless conversations about the topic of sexual misconduct, I had never learned about the resources that were available to me and others. NVRDC, DCFNE, and many other organizations offer services ranging from hospital accompaniment for survivors to civil legal services. Due to our failed criminal justice system and society’s culture of blaming survivors, taking legal action often does not feel like a safe option. Organizations like NVRDC keep all of the work you do with them completely confidential, unless you request to take legal action. A survivor’s first step in addressing their assault is typically to participate in a SANE exam: an exam which evaluates the physical evidence of your sexual assault, conducted by a professional Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. All survivors are eligible as long as the assault occurred in the last 120 days. In the exam, victims are given free medication to prevent HIV and AIDS and alternate light source technology is used to highlight any physical wounds. All data, lab results and toxicology reports are kept with the organization unless you seek legal action, which would mean that the local law enforcement would get the results too. If you receive your exam through an organization like NVRDC (you can also receive a SANE exam at any hospital), an advocate is present the whole time to support the victim. These advocates work with nurses to ensure survivors’ confidentiality and accompany them to meetings with law enforcement if the assault is reported. 

People often overlook getting a SANE exam due to lack of information. Many survivors don’t seek the exam due to confidentiality fears, economic reasons and their immigration status. However, SANE exams are 100% free and confidential regardless of income status, immigration status or gender. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, anyone is eligible to receive a SANE exam at Medstar Washington Hospital Center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

The services provided by organizations like DCFNE are not limited to just SANE exams. The services that these local organizations provide range from housing assistance for victims to providing witnesses for legal cases. Despite living in D.C for 17 years and frequently participating in discussions regarding sexual misconduct, I was never aware of the resources that D.C organizations make available to victims. Receiving medical closure can often be a huge step in processing and coping with a sexual assault. 

Going to a small, independent school unfortunately does not mean we are an exception to the staggeringly high rates of sexual assault amoung students. We can all help minimize this by spreading information about resources that are available to survivors in our schools, families, and other communities. 

 

RESOURCES-

Network for Victim Recovery in D.C(NVRDC) – https://www.nvrdc.org

D.C Forensic Nurse Examiners(DCFNE)- https://www.dcfne.org

National Sexual Assault Hotline- 1-800-656-4673

D.C Rape Crisis Center- http://dcrcc.org

D.C Rape Crisis Center hotline- 202-333-RAPE