When I was 13 and I told my mother I had my first boyfriend, she told me to “be safe.”
“Be safe.” The two words you hear when you ride a bike for the first time or as a reminder to put on a seat belt. The two words you hear urging you to take an extra jacket or to wait for the walk signal. The same two words you hear telling you to tie your shoes or not to talk to strangers. I was confused. Shouldn’t she have been elated like my teenage, boy-obsessed friends? Shouldn’t she be peppering me with questions, trying to figure out the identity of this mystery boy?
What I couldn’t understand at the time was that my mother is a statistic. She is one of the 22 million women in the United States who have been raped. She is among the one in three women globally who has been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. She is part of the 29.9 percent that, between the ages of 11 and 17, has survived a completed or attempted rape. She is part of the 73 percent of sexual assaults that were perpetrated by a non-stranger.
It took her 15 years to come forward and work through the trauma and shame. Fifteen years to not feel responsible and understand that no matter what she said, did or wore, she was not at fault.
Although my mother’s story is unique, her struggle is common. Most survivors of sexual violence find it difficult to ask for help and share their stories.
That’s why Deputy Title IX Coordinator Tara Pereira’s efforts to extend the 180-day window for filing a complaint alleging sexual harassment or assault are so valiant. The more time we can offer survivors, the more realistic it is that individuals will find the strength to acknowledge, process and take the initiative to work through their incidents and reach out to the University for support. I urge the Faculty Senate to sympathize with survivors and vote to extend the six-month time frame.
However, it’s important to understand that the 180-day window comes from the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights’ model policy for filing a complaint. If any victim of sexual assault were to seek help from the University – regardless of time elapsed since the incident – GW would provide resources to aid in their recovery. GW has recently implemented many changes to make its services and policies more survivor-friendly. This proposal to extend the 180-day window is just another example of the progress GW is making to help victims of sexual abuse.
When looking at the violence in our world, many use distance as a coping strategy. We tell ourselves that it could never happen to us or someone we know. We push it to the back of our minds, or out of our heads altogether, so we feel safe. So, when something happens again and again, we just keep reminding ourselves that it could never happen to us or our community. But the truth is, no one anywhere is exempt.
The writer, Ariella Neckritz, is a member of both the Feminist Student Union and Students Against Sexual Assault.