Annu Subramanian: Stress immediacy where it matters

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Annu Subramanian

Under the University’s new sexual assault policy, students will be expected to report cases of abuse within 180 days of an incident.

This tremendous policy change – under the old code there was no such statute of limitations – is meant to encourage victims to step forward and get assistance from the University as soon as possible.

A federal directive in 2011, which first led to the review of the sexual abuse code, stressed “immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred.” And if there has been an assault, “a school must take prompt and effective steps” to end it, prevent a repeat occurrence and address any effects.

In theory, the University and the Department of Education are on the same page.

Yet the GW Hospital does not provide the services needed to promptly or effectively respond to a sexual assault. GW Hospital still does not have rape kits, even though a 2010 study by two medical students found that 89 percent of students surveyed thought it did.

Rape kits, which are necessary to perform the extensive medical exams administered to victims after sexual assaults, are only available at the Washington Hospital Center located near the Columbia Heights Metro station. The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program – which includes forensic and medical examiners – receives federal funds to be housed at Washington Hospital Center.

The battery of tests that take place at Washington Hospital Center is replicable, and “the contents of the kit are standard-issue hardware for any hospital emergency room,” the Washington City Paper reported the same year the GW survey came out. But GW Hospital – which is independent from the University – would have to stick its neck out and pay to have the procedure offered in Foggy Bottom.

It’s important to note that the University does have options for students who would like forensic medical exams. Either a University Police officer or an EMeRG van can transport a student to Washington Hospital Center. And even so, “There have been very few students who want to go through one of the forensic exams, because they are so incredibly invasive,” Deputy Title IX Coordinator Tara Pereira told me Friday.

But it’s terribly concerning that at a time when the University is so keen on students bringing sexual assaults to justice, it would not provide the service needed to do just that.

The 180-day rule encourages victims of sexual assault to speak up, perhaps before they’re ready to, in the name of expediency. And even though there is a “good cause” clause in the policy which allows students to report the incident after 180 days, the purpose of the policy is to expedite the process. But how can the University expect students to report sexual abuse if they don’t have all of the necessary services to respond to it? How can we expect students to come forward faster if they have to go to another hospital to seek help?

The instances of sexual assault on college campuses are astronomical. Nationwide, about one in five women are victims of attempted or actual sexual assaults, according to Department of Education data. The rarity with which these assaults are brought to light is harrowing – about 95 percent of campus rapes go unreported.

GW is no stranger to this issue, either. In 2010, there were 12 sex offenses on campus. The need is great for a policy that truly assists victims, offers the necessary services and encourages – without forcing – students to speak up.

Not having rape kits or offering forensic medical exams at GW Hospital is a deterrent in the moments when a victim is most vulnerable. The cost of shelling out capital to provide this important service is worth covering.

And if the University is going to emphasize immediacy, that’s where it matters.

Annu Subramanian, a senior majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet senior columnist and the former opinions editor.

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