This story is first in a two-part series examining rape on campus
In the early morning hours of Oct. 30, a female GW student was sexually assaulted in JBKO Residence Hall. Her attacker was the male friend of another man who lived in the building.
This is the most recent incident of reported sexual assault on campus, where about three sexual assaults are officially reported each year, with many more going unreported.
One in three women will be raped in her lifetime, according to a 1992 study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. On campus and in greater D.C., support networks exist to help survivors navigate the winding road ahead of them. But knowing where to turn for help is only the start of the uphill climb.
Calling for help
The D.C. Rape Crisis Center runs 333-RAPE, a 24-hour hotline for survivors of rape and sexual assault. The counselor on the other end of the line might be someone such as Ruthie Vishlitzky, a GW junior who has volunteered as a hotline counselor with DCRCC for over a year.
Counselors don’t tell callers what they should or shouldn’t do, she says. Only they know what choice is right for them. Since rape involves a total loss of power on the victim’s part, Vishlitzky says encouraging callers to make choices for themselves helps them regain a feeling of control.
Counselors do help survivors identify their options. These include anything from alerting the University or Metropolitan Police Departments, going to a hospital, to filing criminal charges. DCRCC counselors are available around the clock to assist rape victims in navigating these procedures.
Or the survivor could choose none of the above, a common decision, says Vishlitzky. According to a 1993 report to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, an estimated 84 percent of rapes go unreported. The same study found that as many as 98 percent of sexual assault survivors never see their attackers caught, tried and imprisoned.
Many survivors choose not to file charges, she says. Maybe the victim has to see this person every day on campus or doesn’t want have to revisit such a painful experience in a public place like a courtroom. Whatever the reason, very few women decide to go through with it.
Making it official
There are a few ways GW students who believe they were raped or sexually assaulted can officially report what happened. The first option is filing an official incident report with UPD. This description of the attack, which may be filed anonymously, becomes part of campus crime statistics, says Dolores Stafford, director of UPD.
If the alleged attacker is also a University student, the incident report will prompt an investigation by GW Student Judicial Services into violations of school rape or sexual assault policies, provided the report is not anonymous. If the victim’s name is withheld, no charges against the attacker can be filed with judicial affairs.
Deciding how to proceed legally following a rape is never easy for the victims, says Stafford. To assist students, UPD provides a Sexual Assault Crisis Consultation Team, staffed by GW administrators and other staff trained to inform students of their rights following rape or sexual assault.
The only way rape or sexual assault can be criminally investigated is by filing charges with MPD. Then police investigators will begin collecting evidence of the alleged crime, to be referred to a U.S. attorney. Evidence gathering usually also means having a rape kit performed by a doctor at a hospital, in which an assortment of swabs and combs are used to collect DNA evidence like blood, semen and saliva, no more than 72 hours after the attack. The procedure also includes a physical examination and is free at D.C. General Hospital. At the GW Hospital, the charge usually amounts to several hundred dollars but is covered by many insurance agencies.
While there is no way to guarantee the successful prosecution of a rape or sexual assault, the three-day window following the attack is the best time to gather the crucial physical evidence that can support a criminal allegation in court.
The victim’s body is a crime scene, says Investigator Neil Jones of MPD. Showering destroys the evidence that could help win a case.
He adds that having the exam performed does not mean a survivor will necessarily press charges, but having the evidence on file is always important if the victim changes his or her mind. He says, Having the evidence is what’s going to help win the case.