By Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster
This summer, I stood on the House floor and, for the first time, told my own story about my experiences with sexual assault.
Afterward, I was overwhelmed not only by the support that I received from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, but by the kind messages from constituents across New Hampshire, some of whom came forward with their own stories. Speaking out for the first time, almost 40 years later, was not easy. But I’m hopeful that sharing my story may help survivors know they are not alone.
Unfortunately, many people never feel free to come forward after incidents like the ones that I experienced. Data from RAINN, the nation’s largest sexual violence prevention network, shows that of every 1,000 sexual assaults that occur, only 344 are reported to police. Common reasons cited for not reporting include fear of retaliation from the perpetrator and a belief that the police could not or would not be able to help. Clearly, we must do better. We must create a better culture where survivors are able to come forward without fear.
As we mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we can both celebrate the progress we have made and reflect upon the hard work that remains to be done to combat sexual violence—on our campuses, in our military, and throughout our communities. There have been important steps forward. This summer, amid public outrage about the lenient sentencing of former Stanford University student Brock Turner, I joined with 17 of my House colleagues to read on the House floor, Emily Doe’s open letter describing her attack and ensuing trial, marking the first time a victim’s statement has been read in full in the House chamber.
Additionally comprehensive federal regulations, following the bipartisan 2013 re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), now provide additional guidance to schools regarding campus sexual violence. And earlier this month, President Obama signed into law the Survivors’ Bill of Rights, which, among other reforms, formally codifies that assault survivors have the right to receive a comprehensive forensic physical exam free of charge and to have their rape kits preserved. Legislation like this helps demonstrate to survivors that we have their backs, and that every effort will be made to bring perpetrators to justice as swiftly as possible.
I was proud to cosponsor the House version of the Survivors’ Bill of Rights, but there are a number of other pieces of legislation for which I am advocating that are just as worthy of a vote on the floor—and President Obama’s signature. They include:
- H.R. 1310, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act; introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), this bipartisan legislation would strengthen Clery Act reporting requirements for schools that receive federal funding, as well as require them to develop enhanced campus security policies, among other changes.
- H.R. 2680, the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency on (HALT) Campus Sexual Violence Act. Introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), this legislation would require the Department of Education to publicly disclose schools that are under federal Title IX investigation, as well as strengthen penalties for schools that are in violation, among other reforms.
- H.R. 1490, the SOS Campus Act. Introduced by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), this legislation would require schools receiving federal funding to have designated independent advocates to focus on preventing and addressing campus sexual violence.
- H.R. 5972, the Campus Sexual Assault Whistleblower Act; introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), this legislation would provide protection for students that report sexual assault (either against themselves or others) against “honor code” violations or other retaliation from administrators.
Together, we must focus on preventing future incidences of campus sexual violence, and creating college climates in which victims feel comfortable reporting and perpetrators are held accountable. We should learn from schools that are already leading the way in this area, and hold accountable institutions that are not. I’m proud of UNH’s and PIRC’s innovative approach to combating sexual violence, on campus and elsewhere. Research has shown that only a small percentage of people commit these crimes, meaning that the majority of people who don’t can be part of the solution. Initiatives like Bringing in the Bystander and Know Your Power are crucial to bringing everyone together to work toward safer communities, and I look forward to continuing to support your efforts in Congress.
Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster, a Democrat, is the Representative from New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District.
To read Representative Kuster’s full bio, click here