More than 150 people gathered in front of the U.S. Department of Education Thursday evening in solemn protest of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ decision to rescind Obama-era guidelines on Title IX enforcement.
Survivors of sexual assault, their families and advocates – including many GW students and alumni – spoke to the crowd about their personal experiences with sexual violence.
A family from Concord, N.H. told the story of Chessie Prout, their daughter, who was sexually assaulted at age 15. Her parents Susan and Alex Prout, stood with Chessie as they discussed the importance of parents of survivors speaking out and advocating on behalf of their children.
The two said they were outraged that DeVos had met with sexual survivors, those accused of assault and the parents of the accused – but not survivors’ parents.
“Standing here today in front of this building, without having a voice in the process that there is going to be any consideration of rollbacks is probably one of the most ridiculous things that I have ever heard,” Alex Prout said.
GW seniors Emily Harrison, a member of the GW Students Against Sexual Assault executive board, and Salma Makkar spoke about their advocacy efforts, saying they were also speaking on behalf of Aniqa Raihan, an alumna and sexual assault survivor who petitioned the University to expel her assailant last spring.
“We as students and allies call on GW and the Department of Education to stand against misogyny, against rape culture, against rapists and with survivors,” Makkar said, reading to the crowd a statement that Raihan had prepared.
Once the group of survivors finished speaking, candles were distributed among those gathered. Participants held signs with sayings like “Stop Betsy” and “Title IX.”
As candles were lit, the names of those who had lost their lives as a result of sexual violence were read. Following the candle lighting, the crowd observed a moment of silence to honor the survivors.
Between speakers, members of the crowd chanted, “I believe you, I support you, you are not alone.”
Participants rallied in support of the two Obama-era documents on mandating that colleges crack down on sexual assault. The two documents were rescinded last month by the Department of Education.
Armin Aflaki, a 2013 alumnus, said he wants other men to understand their power to prevent sexual assault.
Aflaki said the repeal of Title IX guidelines is making survivors and advocates anxious, raising uncertainty about the level of support from the federal government.
“I’m fed up with how men were acting with issue, fed up with Betsy’s policies,” Aflaki said. “It was heartbreaking. Survivors have been out here, advocates have been out here, where have you been?”
Ariella Neckritz, a 2016 alumni and former co-president of SASA, said government policies, universities and support agencies need to improve how they support survivors.
“We deserve better, survivors deserve better, communities deserve better, and I watched, as a student, GW fail survivors time and time again,” Neckritz said. “I wholeheartedly believe the changes that happened were because people spoke up, because the University heard, and we deserve more.”