CW: This article references sexual assault. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.
George Washington University (GWU) students have organized petitions and protests demanding the university improve policies to protect survivors of sexual assault on campus.
George Washington Students Against Sexual Assault (GWSASA), a student-run survivor support and advocacy organization, revived the 2017 #GWProtectsRapists campaign after students voiced concerns about the inaction of the university’s Title IX office and the George Washington Police Department (GWPD) in protecting survivors. Survivors, students and community supporters plan to stage a demonstration outside GWU’s commencement ceremony for the classes of 2020 and 2021 on the National Mall on Oct. 2. Afterward, the group will send a set of demands to the university regarding increased protections for survivors.
GWSASA demands that the university establish a clear process for survivors to enact campus bans — which can range from preventing perpetrators from living in university-owned housing to barring them from on-campus classes — against their perpetrators after several occasions when survivors felt inadequately protected by the university, according to the GWSASA statement and petition released Sept. 26.
“Survivors have experienced stalling, innaction, and a blatant lack of communication, particularly when the perpetrator comes from a background of wealth and status,” the statement reads. “The process for initiating campus bans is unclear and the Title IX office has continually proven not only to be ineffective, but actually an obstructive force for accessing bans for many survivors.”
Students first launched the #GWProtectsRapists campaign in 2017 after the university allowed an individual to walk at his graduation ceremony after sexually assaulting another student and violating the GWU Student Code of Conduct. While the perpetrator was barred from residing in on-campus or university-owned housing, administrators permitted him to graduate as long as he did not commit additional offenses.
Stephanie Lee, a senior at GWU, started an Instagram account Sept. 25 to revive the #GWProtectsRapists campaign, attempted to request that the university bar her assailant from walking at graduation.
However, Lee said the university closed her case because her assailant no longer attends GWU, motivating her to take action and revive the #GWProtectsRapists campaign.
“I decided that we need to do something, and the thing that we need to do needs to be immediate because there’s people that are literally in classes right now with their rapists at GW,” Lee said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “That needs to stop effective immediately.”
According to Lee, when survivors attempt to work with the Title IX office or GWPD seeking protections from their perpetrators, their requests are often left unresolved due to inconsistent policy application regarding barring students from participating in activities like graduation.
“I don’t know how the barring process actually takes place because they don’t have it in formal writing anywhere,” Lee said. “The process can change on the whim.”
In light of these issues, the Oct. 2 protest will take place outside the commencement ceremony. Student activists want to bring awareness to the university’s unjust policies without disrupting the ceremony itself, according to Shira Strongin, GWU student and co-president of GWSASA.
“GW SASA e-board members will be in attendance as trained confidential resources to provide support for survivors who may feel triggered during this work,” Strongin wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We will hold our signs near the entrance of commencement in silence.”
The petition and protest advocate for change within the university’s Title IX office, which currently has no clear system for assisting survivors and often does not adequately penalize perpetrators of privileged backgrounds, according to Strongin.
“GW’s Title IX office has constructed artificial barriers in processes for protection and justice which have harmed survivors,” Strongin wrote.
According to a Sept. 27 letter sent to the GWU community by Asha Reynolds, Title IX investigator, and Caroline Laguerre-Brown, vice provost for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement, the GWU Title IX office is working to increase resources for survivors on campus.
“The university is working to address concerns about the timely handling of Title IX complaints, including implementing new case management software and hiring more staff,” the letter reads.
According to Lee, the protest has the potential to benefit survivors by enacting change in university policies regarding sexual assault and other crimes.
“I’m hoping based off of that, that some of us get the justice and protection we deserve as survivors on campus,” Lee said. Resources: On-campus resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Service (202-687-7080); additional off-campus resources include the D.C. Rape Crisis Center (202-333-7273) and the D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiner Washington Hospital Center (844-443-5732). If you or anyone you know would like to receive a sexual assault forensic examination or other medical care — including emergency contraception — call the Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. at 202-742-1727. To report sexual misconduct, you can contact Georgetown’s Title IX coordinator at 202-687-9183 or file an online report here. Emergency contraception is available at the CVS located at 1403 Wisconsin Ave NW and through H*yas for Choice. For more information, visit sexualassault.georgetown.edu.