Last February, survivors of sexual assault in the District testified before the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary for a hearing on the Sexual Assault Victims' Rights Amendment Act (SAVRAA). Among other provisions, SAVRAA gives victims of sexual assault the right to an advocate during any interview with law enforcement, prosecutors, or defense attorneys as well as during their medical forensic examination. This means that NVRDC advocates are available 24/7 to respond to calls as part of our Hospital Advocacy Program so that they can accompany survivors through their exams and be with them even during interviews with Metropolitan Police Department if the survivor chooses to report the assault.
During the hearing, 13 survivors of sexual assault shared their experiences with the justice system. Everyone here at NVRDC was inspired by the courage and resiliency that each and every one of those individuals showed in telling their stories and speaking out about what needs to change so that our city can more effectively respond to and support victims of sexual violence.
One of those survivors, Jeannette, shared some of her reflections on what it was like for her to testify.
How did you first get in touch with NVRDC’s services?
I first connected with NVRDC when I was being checked out at the hospital. A caseworker from the organization reached out to me and explained services available to me.
You put a lot of work into preparing your testimony before the hearing. What was that process like for you? What thoughts were going through your head?
The testimony was the first time I really sat down and thought about what happened to me and allowed it to sink in where as before, it never felt real. I actually had to acknowledge and accept the words that I was writing as my own experience and not just something that happened to someone else. The process was actually very depressing. That night kept playing over and over in my head as well as the negative comments made to me.
Going into the hearing, what were you hoping would happen?
I didn’t have much hope for the hearing, I just wanted to be heard and get a weight off my shoulders.
How did you feel during the hearing itself? Describe what it was like reading your testimony in front of the committee.
The hearing was very emotional for me before and during my testimony. I never expected to cry as much as I did and feel so sad. It was a little hard to talk about my experience especially in a room full of people. I think what made it easier was the fact that most were strangers. I also felt some kind of relief reading my testimony.
Now that it’s a few weeks out, can you describe your thoughts and/or feelings reflecting on that experience?
I think that the experience was a very important one for my healing process and me. It really pushed me to start working on healing and taking care of myself.
What are your hopes in the future for SAVRAA and how we, as a city, are able to support victims of crime?
I hope that SAVRAA continues its mission and continues to be a platform for survivors. It would be great if the city as a whole, especially those who uphold the law, can be understanding as well as gentle.
Thanks to Jeannette and all of the other survivors for their testimonies. A video featuring portions of the hearing can be found here. You can also see some of the hearing's media coverage by checking out this article from Rewire.