Metro

Survivors testify at sexual assault hearing

Meeting part of 13-member commission’s goal to improve sexual assault policy, reporting

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Two sexual assault survivors delivered their testimonies Monday before a 13-member commission at the Rhode Island State House.

Two female sexual assault survivors testified Monday at a meeting of the General Assembly’s Special Commission on Campus Sexual Assault, a 13-member body tasked with gathering information to inform Rhode Island policymakers, said Rep. Mia Ackerman, D-Cumberland and Lincoln, chair of the commission.

The creation of the commission was spurred by Ackerman’s introduction of a bill that would require institutions of higher education in the state to report incidents of sexual assault to law enforcement. While the commission does not include a representative from the University, representatives come to the commission from Johnson and Wales University, Rhode Island College, University of Rhode Island and Providence College.

Jane, whose last name has been removed to maintain confidentiality, testified before the commission about how she was in her own home when she was brutally raped and assaulted. Jane said after her assaulter left and she realized the extent of her injuries, she called the police and was transported to the Women and Infants Hospital of Rhode Island. There, physicians asked her what happened and measured the bites on her back while photographers took pictures of injuries on her arms, legs and vaginal area, she said.

Jane said she was asked if she wanted to call a friend or a family member but she declined. She said she felt ashamed and embarrassed about what had happened.

“At that moment I decided to keep my rape a secret,” Jane said.

Though Jane was assaulted at age 47 and was not a college student, the commission asked her to testify about the Rhode Island court system to determine whether the state should require students to utilize Rhode Island’s legal system through the proposed legislation, Ackerman said.

Jane sat through three trials concerning her assault — one after a mistrial of the original case and a second after an appeal from her assaulter.

“The burden of proof was always on me,” Jane said. “My character and my integrity as a woman were always questioned.”

Throughout her trials, Jane was supported by an advocate from Day One — a Rhode Island agency that aims to reduce sexual violence and support those affected by it.

Despite her experience in the legal system, Jane said she feels that universities must be required to report cases of sexual assault to the state. New Jersey and Virginia are among other states considering similar legislation.

“What I’ve heard from students is that colleges tend to sweep sexual assault under the rug,” said Jane, who now speaks to college students about her experience through One Voice, a survivor advocacy group that uses public speaking to address sexual violence. “We need to hold colleges accountable,” Jane added.

Erin — whose last name has been omitted to maintain confidentiality — is also a member of One Voice and testified Monday.

Erin was 24 years old when she was violently gang-raped on New Year’s Eve in 2005.

She approached a police officer who listened and called an ambulance for her. Several other police officers soon arrived on the scene and asked her to describe the incident.

“In my head, I thought I was clear,” she said. “The officers treated me as if I were the criminal and threw me in the back of the police car.”

When a detective asked her to recount the event, Erin found that two hours of her memory had been lost. Rape kit results later revealed that she had been drugged.

Three years following her rape, detectives found a possible match for one of her assailants. He had since fled from Rhode Island to Florida. Years later, he held up an apartment. Not wanting to give himself up to police, he killed himself. Before that, he drowned his electronics in water to destroy them and their contents, meaning that Erin and her advocate from Day One would not be able to trace the contacts of her assailant and link him with any of her other possible assailants.

Compelled to move forward from her assault and make sure the same would not happen to others, Erin worked toward a master’s of public health at Roger Williams University, where she studied methods of bystander prevention.

She and Jane recently spoke at Rhode Island College, where they gathered feedback from students about the culture of sexual assault on college campuses.

In their discussions with students, several male students did not know what consent was, Erin said. Other students voiced concern that sports teams and fraternities fostered a culture of rape, she added.

Students recommended a one-credit course taught during their first semester about the definition of consent and methods of bystander intervention, Erin said, noting that students specifically requested the material not be taught through an online course — a method that Brown piloted for the first time this year.

Students also suggested that sexual assault counseling come specifically from their residential advisors.

While California and New York have passed affirmative consent laws, which require active and freely given verbal consent during all sexual acts, Ackerman said she would not institute a similar bill in Rhode Island.

“I cannot see how, in the throws of passion … anybody would be saying ‘Yes we can do this,’ ‘Yes we can do that,’” Ackerman said. “It’s not practical, and it’s not provable.”

  • Xaiyan Okuwanbe

    Remember this: Brown University hushes things up. They do not care whether or not they obstruct justice, as long as they do not risk alum donations. It is that simple. They have criminal minds here.

  • Bob

    “I cannot see how, in the throws of passion … anybody would be saying ‘Yes we can do this,’ ‘Yes we can do that,’” Ackerman said. “It’s not practical, and it’s not provable.”
    .
    Finally, a rational politician. Affirmative consent shifts the burden of proof to the man and the only he can prove he obtained consent is to record and maintain audio of every sexual encounter. I doubt most women are down with that.

    • Crois Poison

      So change your sexual preference then. wattadumaas

  • ShadrachSmith

    People must be prosecuted, and innocence is no defense?

    • Cris Pisson

      People must be allowed, and guilt is no obstacle.