In the shadows: Confronting sexual assault at Georgetown

March 20, 2014

Christina Libre and Noah Buyon


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.


*   *   *


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.”


*   *   *


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.

Ana Smith
Ana Smith is a member of the College class of 2015. She majored in Biology of Global Health, premed, and minored in French.

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Comments 15

  • To clarify a quote in the article: NSO training is a huge, positive step that SAPE and folks in GUSA worked for for over a year. It should be followed up by more education and outreach over all four class years that would be facilitated by more staff resources for sexual assault at CAPS and HES.

  • Calling this sexual assault is what makes it hard for actual survivors to be heard. He didn’t know how to tell her no? So he participates in making out, but figures out how to say no when she reaches for his pants? And then he stays put and continues to tolerate her advances for the rest of the night?

    Sure, it was raunchy. But there is no way this girl was assaulting him. She offered him action, he appeared to accept it. She can’t read his mind. The initial touching of his chest and planting a kiss on him may have amounted to harassment, at worst. But is she supposed to think of herself as guilty of assault because this guy kissed her back? Because he was thinking no and acting yes? This isn’t even an example of “I tried to say no, but he was all over me so fast and didn’t listen to me when I said no.” Apparently if you participate in some raunchy stuff at a bar, and then don’t like it later, you’ve been assaulted. If someone you are kissing doesn’t recognize that you are thinking no, they are assaulting you.

    Had he put his hands up in the “no” position and said, “No, thanks,” that would have been the end of it. Sort of the opposite of assault, which you know you can’t stop by saying no. Let’s not call this super victim a “survivor” as it degrades people who have actually survived something.

    • You’re wrong.

      He clearly explains that he was taken aback and wasn’t sure how to tell her to stop at first because he was with all male friends who didn’t know he way gay. Clearly, in that moment, he was suddenly scared of how his friends would react if he rejected her. This is complicated by LGBT issues and the issue that people typically don’t perceive the same actions against men as sexual assault. Your inability to recognize this represents exactly what this feature is trying to highlight.

      Moreover, when she does assume it’s OK to put her hand down his pants (without a clear “yes,” I might add) he tells her no. But, throughout the rest of the night as he is with his friends, she continues to grope him. THAT is sexual assault. He said no, she continues to force the issue. He is unsure how to react because his friends don’t know he is gay, AND they clearly don’t understand how it could be wrong because they only congratulate him.

      Are you telling me if a male kissed a girl then randomly stuck his hands down her pants to touch her, and she says no and he forces the issue, that that wouldn’t be sexual assault??

      Also, even if he was OK and comfortable with kissing her, that does not mean he wants to go further. Because I am OK with making out with someone does not mean “YES” to everything else. Consent to kissing does not mean that everything else is OK to do, especially when I say “NO” to going further.

      • He was a coward and he’s upset that she wasn’t a clairvoyant. As a female, I have had to tell guys “no, not at all,” and “no, not any further.” Sure, there was a sense of “he might think I’m a dork if I change my mind/don’t want what he wants.” But, not being a coward, I said no when I wanted to anyway. I have been judged/slighted because of this–but that doesn’t meant I can go along with unwanted sexual activity and later cry rape.

        I think that what she did to him was harassment, especially as it sounds like he said no to a direct genital grope in public, but did not actually communicate that he didn’t want anything at all from her. That things seemed friendly and flirty is evident by her ongoing kissing and “groping” him (which probably doesn’t mean a genital grope, but could mean a suggestive touch–this guy is working pretty hard to be a rape victim). She thought they were in some sort of pervy bumper car game–something he never shut down. A simple, “Stop! I don’t want you!” would have stopped 100% of this, as she was not trying to assault him, but thought he wanted what she wanted. His guy friends could watch him shut down her behavior without assuming he was in the closet. Unless we are stereotyping that all men must accept all sexual come-ons from the opposite sex lest they be gay.

        If you’re not willing to hurt someone’s feelings, you’re going to give away a lot of what you want to keep to yourself. This doesn’t mean that people who come on to you and go as far as you let them are assaulting you–they think you are into it too. It is up to each person to shut something down if they don’t like it.

        And let’s be honest–nobody does the “Yes, do that. Yes, you may now touch my nipple.” Sexual behavior has a natural stumbling forward where consent is given through participation. He participated. He allowed her to get the clear idea that he was into kissing her and being touched (just not on his naked penis). If he wanted it to stop, he could have done SOMETHING, ANYTHING.

        And if the roles were reversed, the only thing that would make it more difficult for the woman being suddenly kissed is that she is probably a lot smaller and weaker than the guy–which can make it hard to break free. Unless this girl was a behemoth, there is no good reason for this guy to have said, “No, thanks.” Being same sex attracted does not excuse him acting like a spineless jellyfish and then accusing her of something horrible. (Also, anthropologically, one can safely assume that most girls don’t want random sexual attention and most guys do. This is evident in every species where the female carries the majority of the biological cost of bearing offspring. So, statistically, a guy randomly planting one on a strange girl knows that there is an 80-100% chance that she is not interested and a girl doing that to a guy has a very high chance that he will be interested. Look up “Will you have sex with me?” videos on YouTube. 0/100 girls agreed to have sex with a random guy, whereas a pretty substantial number of guys said yes (and if you exclude the guys standing right there with their partners, it was really high).

        There are so many cases where the person is actually being assaulted–this story really weakens the public’s perception of how prevalent it is. They pick the least likable “victim” to trot out, one who acted like he was into it. Being “taken aback” while “starting to make out” does not let the other person know you aren’t into it.

        • As a female, just because I am comfortable with kissing someone does not mean I want to take another step. Maybe I’m not ready for sex yet. And when I tell someone “NO, I do not want to go any further” to continue to keep trying to finger me is sexual assault. To force that on me is sexual assault.

          He did not want to be groped by her. He did not want her to give him a handjob. He did not want her to touch him. He said “NO,” repeatedly. He told her to stop. It says that in this article. She continued to grope him, she continued to stick her hand down his pants and grab his genitals. She continued to force this. That is sexual assault.

          The fact that you can’t see that this is what it is is exactly what this feature is trying to highlight about how our society views sexual assault against men. Because of people like you they will never have a voice.

        • You don’t have to express wanting absolutely nothing form someone for it to be sexual assault or rape. People who are dating can rape each other by forcing a step that the other is not ready for.

          Me wanting to makeout with a guy at a party does not mean I want to have sex with him. If he takes this as wanting to go further and I say “NO, I do not want this, do not touch me, stop!” and he continues to force it on me, if he forces me to have sex or forcefully touches me, like this girl did to John, that is sexual assault.

        • “Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.” (http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/sexassault.htm)

          Your argument that a male victim of sexual assault is not a victim but rather a coward is exactly why this article is necessary. Sexual assault victims are not a cookie cutter young, dumb female. And gender should not determine whether an act is anymore traumatic. He felt that he could not say no for his own personal reasons, so therefore he welcomed the act? Much like a female who does not for one reason or another stand up to her assailant, she must have welcomed it. A child who feels defenseless against an older/bigger abuser, doesn’t say no. Hell, lets call them all cowards, because that’s what they are right? Their silence after all welcomed it. How dare you label his actions as cowardly.

          As a victim of sexual assault and a female, I find your comments completely insensitive and ignorant. No victim, young or old, male or female, sober or intoxicated, whether they scream no or hide their anguish inside is ever a coward. And that stereotype that you so naively applied is exactly why this article and the educational programs are in such dire need.

      • 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 everytime she saw me she’d either kiss me or grope me, and when I was leaving she followed me out.”

        –>Where does it say that he repeatedly told her to stop touching him/kissing him? NOWHERE. It says “I just went with it and we started making out at the bar.” and he “didn’t tell her to stop UNTIL she reached her hand down his pants. “For the rest of the night everytime she saw me she’d eiter kiss me or grope me, and when I was leaving she followed me out.””

        He told her to stop when she went for his penis, and she did. But she assumed that he was fine with staying at the level where they had already been. Had he said no to that, she would have stopped that too.

        You know you are too PC when you really can’t see that it is different for a 120 pound female to have a 180 pound male grab her than when the reverse happens. When you can’t see that a drunk girl getting frisky with a guy who kisses her back is not a rapist.

        He was a coward–socially. Isn’t he in the closet? Didn’t he do stuff he didn’t want to do because he was afraid of doing what was right? That’s cowardice. Just because he doesn’t like who he is doesn’t mean he is being victimized by people who take him at his word/behavior.

        I don’t think real victims are cowards. I think this guy is not a real victim and is a coward. Key difference.

        • “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.”

          It clearly says she kept trying to touch his penis despite him having said no. That is what "grope me" stands for, after all.

          I don't think it is safe to presume weights or sizes. This is just furthering the idea that men can't be sexually assaulted, which is a key point in this feature.

        • Even if he could fight her off, the moment she makes sexual contact without consent is sexual assault. Even if he gets away from her, that touching without consent is assault.

        • John was sexually assaulted because when he told her to stop groping him she continued to corner him and try to initiate a sexual act for the rest of the night, as I tried to articulate through the quote:

          “For the rest of the night, every time she saw me she’d either kiss me or grope me. …”

          His story was curtailed there out of respect to him and because his quote “… and when I was leaving she followed me out,” we thought, proved that there was more. What we did show, however, was evidence enough of a sexual assault.

          I am sorry if this was not clear to all readers.