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Reviews | DC has a new law to help students who are victims of sexual assault

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Michele Booth Cole is Executive Director of Safe Shores – the DC Children’s Advocacy Center. Ashley Harrell is Director of Safe Shores’ Customer Advocacy Services Program. Jordan Barksdale is Safe Shores Teen Advocacy Services Coordinator.

In 2021CC implemented Sexual Assault Rights Amendment Act 2019 (SAVRAA), which gives DC sexual assault victims ages 13 to 17 the right to an advocate — a trained professional from a community organization — to help teen survivors understand their options for medical, legal, and mental health care. thus to support them in their choices, whatever they may be.

For a 15-year-old girl walking to school one morning last spring, the right to a lawyer became real. As cars and buses buzzed down the street, a stranger appeared in the girl’s path, pulled her into an alley and forced her to perform oral sex.

Shaken and scared, the teenager, whose name is withheld to protect her privacy, somehow went to school and immediately informed her school counselor of the assault, which activated the response of city’s multidisciplinary investigation into child abuse. The counselor reported the teen’s allegation to the police and the teen’s parents. The responding Division of Youth and Family Services detective connected the teen with an attorney from the Teen Advocate Initiative at the DC Children’s Advocacy Center. The lawyer arrived at the school within an hour and began helping the teenager navigate a complex process amidst a physical and emotional crisis.

First, the attorney spoke with the teen to see if she wanted to go ahead with a sexual assault medical. Then she went with the teenager to the emergency department of a hospital, sat with her in the examination room and explained in a soft, sympathetic voice that the nurse would need to draw blood. DNA for legal evidence.

The lawyer shared her laptop with the teenager to watch a light Netflix show while waiting to be sorted and reviewed. By the end of the long hospital visit, the teenager’s polite but vacant stare had given way to a shy smile. His healing journey had begun.

The letter and spirit of the Sexual Assault Rights Act came to life in this case. It was a holistic response, rooted in the needs of the young survivor. His school had sounded the alarm. The police put the teenager in contact with a lawyer. Then, that attorney provided the teen with information, referrals, safety planning, and emotional support — all centered around respecting the teen’s voice and encouraging her agency.

This case illustrates the power of SAVRAA to effect meaningful change in how DC deals with teen sexual assault. It also highlights the unique responsibility and critical role that law enforcement and schools play in ensuring the system works optimally for young victims of crime. Schools have a non-negotiable duty to protect students and to report allegations of abuse and assault in a timely manner to law enforcement.

The city’s colleges and high schools, in particular, could be natural allies for teenagers. At a minimum, DC schools have a legal and ethical obligation to promptly report reasonable suspicions of abuse and allegations of teen sexual assault to the appropriate local authorities rather than attempting to conduct their own investigations. The Comprehensive Safe Schools Amendment Act 2018 requires all DC school employees and contractors, including school officials, teachers, coaches, nurses and mental health professionals, to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect.

Thus, a logical and urgent next step for schools in DC, which have daily contact with the majority of young people in the district, is to educate their students, teachers, staff, parents, caregivers and contractors about the prevention of sexual violence. and on the rights that teenagers now have and how to access a lawyer.

By informing DC students of their right to an attorney, schools could play an important role in addressing an underlying criminal justice and public health issue that has wide-ranging implications: the under-reporting of sexual assaults. in adolescents. Often, adolescent victims do not tell anyone about the abuse they have suffered because of shame, threats from the abuser, fear of not being believed, and fear of being separated or rejected by their family, among other reasons. USA Gymnastics’ $380 million settlement with over 500 child sexual abuse victims as well as the recent conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell on charges of teenage sexual assault showed us that.

The under-reporting of teen sexual assault means a staggering number of DC teens struggle with the consequences of sexual assault alone. Yet DC has enacted laws to prevent this.

By supporting these two DCs and proactively protecting students, DC schools could make the #MeToo movement a reality for many of the city’s youngest victims and open doors to justice and healing for thousands. young victims of sexual violence.

Tellingly, the #MeToo movement, which has impacted the lives of so many women, is rooted in girls’ experiences of sexual assault. Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, first uttered the phrase “me too” silently after she was unable to respond to a 13-year-old girl who told her she had been sexually assaulted. Burke said she later wished she had just said to the girl, “Me too.”

When more DC teen survivors of sexual assault know that respectful, non-judgmental, compassionate, personalized and ongoing support is available to them immediately, wherever they are, in the event of a sexual assault, there could be a Huge change for young victims. This change would start with increased reporting, leading to increased access for adolescents to medical and mental health services, ultimately resulting in a healthier, safer, and more productive DC.

Another school year is fast approaching and now is the time to put student safety first. We need a DC where teen sexual assaults are reported as soon as they become known, and teens immediately get the help they need and deserve. We need a DC where every school implements abuse prevention and student protection protocols and codes of conduct that govern how students are treated. We need all DC schools to promptly and consistently report allegations of child sexual abuse.

What if students experienced a government and community working for and with them to help and protect them? Imagine the change and its ripple effects. What would actually happen? There’s only one way to find out.

To report a teenage sexual assault in DC, call DC Child and Family Services, 202-671-SAFE or the Metropolitan Police Department, 911. To For help after a teen sexual assault in DC, call the DC Victim Helpline, 844-4-HELP-DC (844-443-5732).

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