During spring break, John* (COL ‘15) was with four friends, all men, at a crowded club. As John and his friends moved toward the bar, two girls walked past, the second ran her hand down his chest before she turned to follow him.
Before John knew she was there she started kissing him. John wasn’t sure how to tell her to stop. “I didn’t really know what to do, the friends I’d come with didn’t know I’m gay and I’d been drinking all night, so I just went with it and we started making out at the bar,” John wrote in an email to the Voice. He didn’t tell her to stop until she reached her hand down his pants. “For the rest of the night every time she saw me she’d either kiss me or grope me, and when I was leaving she followed me out.”
According to data from the National College Health Assessment, John is one in 33 men who experience sexual assault violence at Georgetown. This survey also estimates that one in four women experience sexual assault on campus, and that 90 to 95 percent of sexual assaults are committed by people known to the survivor.
In September 2010 the Voice published a feature about the reality of sexual assault at Georgetown in which Jared Watkins (COL ‘11), one of the founders of GU Men Creating Change, a campus group that worked to prevent violence against women, predicted that four or five years later Georgetown would adopt a mandatory sexual assault education program.
“There’s a lot of power politics behind how to make things mandatory. Somehow, they can make going to the Off Campus Student Life meeting mandatory, or you can’t register for spring classes. But we can’t make sexual assault education mandatory?” Watkins said at the time.
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Widely-publicized rape cases in universities and towns across the country have led to new federal policies and changes to Title IX, including a requirement for university employees with knowledge of a sexual assault to report the case to the Title IX Coordinator. Mabel Rodriguez (COL ‘14), co-chair of the Sexual Assault Working Group and a Sexual Assault Peer Advisor, believes that these changes have led to “a big push to not only enforce Title IX but also to make sure that universities do everything they possibly can to gather information about this and do something about it.”
As part of this push for greater awareness on sexual assault issues, the Georgetown University Student Association released a memo in January in support of new White House sexual assault initiatives, asking the administration for changes such as making duress and prior sexual history inadmissible in hearings, decreasing contact between survivors and perpetrators in hearings, and hiring more trauma specialists and confidential health education staff to Georgetown Sexual Assault Prevention and Education. According to GUSA President Nate Tisa (SFS ‘14) the administration’s response was “thus far a very positive [one].”
Sexual Assault Working Group member and GUSA President-elect Trevor Tezel (SFS ‘15) worked with the Tisa/Ramadan administration on the alcohol amnesty clause in the Student Code of Conduct that allows students to report cases of sexual assault without facing repercussions for violating the University’s alcohol policy.
Over the next year, Tezel hopes the Code of Conduct will include an amnesty clause for drugs other than alcohol. He also hopes to push through changes “that make the language more survivor friendly [by making sure] anything that has to do with past sexual history other than the alleged perpetrator is not admissible.” Tezel further hopes for new confidential counseling hires and ways to “integrate men into the conversation” over his presidential term.
More frequent meetings of the Sexual Assault Working Group, changes to the Student Code of Conduct amnesty policy, and the recently released sexual misconduct website are a few of the changes Georgetown has made in how it addresses sexual assault on campus in recent years.
Nora West (SFS ‘15), former GUSA secretary of student safety and health and a sexual assault peer advisor, said that these recent developments have, in turn, resulted in an increase of student awareness and support. “Students now have a better sense of their rights and there is a broader discussion of what the issues are on campus,” West wrote in an email to the Voice.
The incoming class in the fall of 2014 will be the first to go through a mandatory sexual assault educational workshop as part of New Student Orientation. According to Bryn Bogan (COL ‘16), NSO coordinator in charge of planning and overseeing the workshop, titled, “This is Georgetown,” NSO 2014 will “incorporate more information around safety, sexual assault, bystander intervention, health education, resolving conflict, and counseling and psychological services on campus.”
Nonetheless, despite the positive step it represents, Tisa believes that just one workshop during NSO is “not enough to integrate that knowledge into your life.”
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John has already decided not to report what happened to him, talk to friends, or seek counseling services from Georgetown. “I don’t think anyone would have really responded to my story. The friends I’d gone with were happy for me and congratulated me afterward,” John said.
John believes that his friends would never think of what happened to him as sexual assault because they, like many others, hold the assumption that it is mostly women who are the victims and men the criminals. “It would definitely be sexual assault if it had happened to a woman, whereas I didn’t even consider anything wrong had happened until I thought about it afterwards,” John said. Unlike the University’s Women’s Center, John has noticed that there is no comparable resource for men.
John’s case serves as an example of the challenges Georgetown will have in addressing sexual assault in years to come.
Anonymous survivors who have talked to the Voice have reported difficulty in accessing Georgetown’s sexual assault resources. On the weekend, when most people are sexually assaulted, survivors were unable to access services, unaware of the existence of a crisis hotline.
The average Georgetown student remains unaware of the recent advancements in how Georgetown addresses sexual assault on campus. Former Co-Chair of Take Back the Night and Sexual Assault Peer Advisor Kathleen Kelley (NHS ‘14) thinks that one of the greatest issues now is not that students don’t have resources but that they don’t know what those resources are. “There’s a lot of work being done but it’s not being publicized in a way that’s useful for them,” Kelley said.
To Kelley, issues in disseminating sexual assault resource information may lie in the University’s underlying intentions. “Students are brought to the table but it seems symbolic in that they’re not always being listened to. Administrators have their own sense of what they should be doing. I think they care, but I think they have a lot of overlapping priorities and I think that PR is a more imminent concern for some members of the administration.”
Rodriguez and Kelley both feel that these concerns added to problems with advancements, such as the sexual assault prevention website, that have been criticized for being unclear and confusing. “There’s a strong push to address sexual assault but an even stronger push to appear like they’re addressing sexual assault. … There are all these pushes to having obvious displays of addressing sexual assault … but there’s not a strong … push to improve the existing resources,” Kelley said.
Director of Health Education services Carol Day emphasized the importance of student feedback to perfect the resources already in place. If students think there is a problem with a resource, it is important for them to give feedback to the administration. “Students often don’t want to think that this is a problem that could happen to them or anybody they know, so it’s probably not really thought about that much, there tends to be denial about the fact that it’s happening.”
Day hopes that the mandatory NSO workshop will help solve publicity issues for the University as it reaches the whole freshman class. She further hopes that Georgetown will have the opportunity to apply for the sexual assault education grant it was denied in 2009 because the University did not have an education program that reached all of its students at the time.
In addition, many anonymous survivors that the Voice has talked to have reported experiencing negative sessions with Counseling and Psychiatric Service counselors because CAPS only has one trauma-informed specialist.
“We need another confidential sexual assault counselor and advocate at Health Education Services and another trauma counselor for CAPS. … Additionally, another confidential counselor at HES could allow them to hold office hours, which would potentially break down barriers for students (particularly underrepresented groups),” West wrote.
Staffing decisions are entirely dependent on the Provost. “He can approve funding for new confidential staffers, he doesn’t need to work on this issue more, but rather recognize its importance and support survivors through confidential staffing increases,” West wrote.
Provost Robert Groves emphasizes the importance of “constantly assessing ways” to improve resources. “We will continue to update and revise programs and consider options for adding additional resources as we learn more and hear helpful new ideas.”
Even though sexual assault issues are common on college campuses across the country, there are some issues that seem unique to Georgetown. There is discussion about what role, if any, Catholic identity affects how Georgetown addresses sexual assault. West acknowledges that many students come to Georgetown from Catholic schools, which have a track record of not properly discussing sex education or ways to approach sexual assault.
To Kelley, addressing sexual assault is not just about providing services to survivors and holding alleged perpetrators accountable. Prevention is a huge part of it too. “It’s also about sex positivity—it’s talking about consent, it’s about talking about hook-up culture,” Kelley said.
According to survivors, the University’s inability to talk about sex makes it difficult for the community to address sexual assault myths. “The University won’t talk about the fact that students are having sex: their sexual needs, their sexual health, that hook-up culture that’s happening, and supporting student that are in that. if we’re not having those conversations then … we can’t address the myth of this grey area between drunk sexual assault and hookups,” Kelley said.
Day, however, holds that the University recognizes that student have consensual sex and that it’s a relationship between two individuals. ”There’s no reason why our Catholic identity would prevent this topic from being something that we educate students about because we understand that [this is] part of the campus community and what happens to students at college,” Day said.
Of the sexual assault survivors who report to local authorities, many find themselves uncomfortable reporting to the Georgetown University Police Department. Kelley felt that while she has had many positive experiences with GUPD, she would probably never go to GUPD if sexually assaulted and “definitely never direct a friend to go to DPS” because she doesn’t think they are sufficiently trained or won’t respond appropriately.
“One of the biggest things that affects whether or not a survivor will report is how the first person they talk to responds,” Kelley said.
Chief of Police Jay Gruber emphasizes that GUPD exists to support students and the number of different options available for survivors could be a part of the reason why not all students that reach out to law enforcement reach out to GUPD. “Every single person on the campus that is a survivor of sexual assault should feel comfortable coming forward to the GUPD … and to me directly,” Gruber said.
“We have officers on every shift 24 hours a day that are trained in Sexual Assault Response Training,” Gruber said. Gruber further hopes that any officer who is not as sensitive to the needs of the survivor as she or he should be needs to be identified to the leadership of GUPD quickly so they can take action to make sure that officer is getting the necessary training.
“I’m very confident that the Georgetown University Police Department that people were used to two years ago has changed dramatically. I like to think that we are much more sensitive to the needs of the student, that we can help students work through sexual assault,” Gruber said.
Georgetown students have their own struggles to overcome if they wish improve education and rates of sexual assault on campus. Kelley believes that because Georgetown students have a very elite view of their peers they are still struggling with the concept of Hoyas as perpetrators, which is exacerbated by class issues at Georgetown. “People think, ‘Well, my peers are really smart, they were raised well, they were raised in good communities’ … that inhibits our abilities to respond to appropriate cases in our life,” Kelley said.
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With National Sexual Assault Awareness Month approaching in April, Georgetown students are gearing up to push for tangible progress. Student leaders are hoping for continued support from administration and increased student participation in order to improve resources for survivors and prevention education.
While Georgetown has seen changes in how sexual assault is addressed on campus in just a short period of time, to Rodriguez, “There’s been a lot of good things happening, but that’s not to say we don’t have a long way to go.”
*Names have been changed to protect survivors’ identity.