“We believe you.”
These words, coming from U.S. senators, members of the Georgetown University community and health care professionals, feel more important now than ever before as the country and our own community navigate a climate of constant exposure to news, conversations and debates about the effects of sexual violence.
The state of our country and our campus is affecting people in a wide range of ways, whether because of the concerns related to federal Title IX policy change, the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church or sexual assault here at Georgetown. At times, this environment can feel insurmountable. Some days or moments may be more unbearable than others. Survivors of sexual assault, gender violence, discrimination and trauma — and those who support them — may be overwhelmed.
The community is struggling with the implications of being at a Catholic and Jesuit university as the church rattles in crisis. Students wonder how best to live a life of meaning and achievement, taking advantage of their talents and accomplishments without being derailed by trauma. Survivors seek to speak up and hold perpetrators accountable — not only to be believed, but also to make a difference in the progress of our society. These debates and frustrations can hurt our heads, our hearts and our spirit.
As a team of advocates and health professionals in Health Education Services, we are here for students, providing unconditional and confidential support, advocacy and guidance.
To the students who are unsure or confused about what happened to them, with memories absent or imperfect — those who don’t know what, if anything, they want to do — we, as qualified people on campus, are here to listen. We help you clarify and understand your rights, the laws, the systems, the medical and emotional care you might need now or later. We assist survivors who need temporary academic relief without anyone knowing why; we help arrange new housing arrangements to help students feel safe. And we know that everyone has the right to stay silent for now or for always. We offer the opportunity for students to discern options or just be present, creating space to support, empower and help them heal in the way that makes the most sense for each person.
There can be a relief in knowing that these conversations remain focused only on what is best for each survivor. Processing the immediate impact, the ongoing impact and what it all means is an important part of empowering survivors to figure out next steps. Because sexual assault is common but complex in so many ways, people often need a content expert who is also a compassionate professional to walk with them on this journey — retrospective and prospective — while providing the support and care they may need.
HES provides ongoing programs like the Sexual Assault Peer Educators, bystander intervention trainings and other trainings customized for the Georgetown community. To increase awareness about these issues, we partner with students and others to develop educational events like tailored workshops and national conferences like the new Working to End Rape Culture Summit. Our commitment to these issues is ongoing and unending.
Georgetown desperately needs an educated community and a trauma-informed campus that understands the complexity of these issues and what to do about them. The university wants to help develop students who can lead the conversation about sexual assault and misconduct and assist other students to be part of a safety net for ohers.
But managing trauma can be exhausting, and lately there seems to be no relief. We are bombarded with politics, personal stories, conversations and information that is triggering, and this pervasiveness can make us feel out of control and hopeless.
In times like these, our community must remember to practice self-care. Pace yourself. Disconnect from the news and social media when you are able. Take a walk. Keep a journal. Exercise. Talk with others. Sleep. Challenge yourself to advance the conversation and the work that will help survivors know they are supported. Think about what you can do, now and in the moment, to care for yourself.
And if you are a survivor, the current environment can raise so many questions about what comes next for you. Even if you have never before been able to pause and consider your experience, you may decide you want to do that now, or you may simply wish to know more, and wonder what you can do. Even — and especially — if you are unsure about where to begin, you can talk to us.
We believe you.
Carol Day is the director of Health Education Services. Jen Luettel Schweer is the director of Sexual Assault Response and Prevention.
Resources: Confidential on-campus resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Services (202-687-7080). 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. Emergency contraception is available at the CVS located at 1403 Wisconsin Ave NW and from H*yas for Choice. To report sexual misconduct, you can contact Georgetown’s interim Title IX coordinator at 202-687-9183 or file an online report here. More information is available at sexualassault.georgetown.edu.