8: Number of Amazing, Emotional Hours We Spent at Yesterday’s DC Council Hearing

CASS’s Julia Strange testifying in support of survivors of sexual assault.


Wow. We had an incredible, impactful day yesterday, DC.

Back in July when we first posted about our work on the Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act (SAVRAA), we never anticipated that survivors and victims’ rights organizations would have the chance to weigh in for a full 8 hours in order to make a resounding case for overhauling how MPD handles sexual assault in DC.  But yesterday, at a public hearing of the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, we were completely blown away by the power we have when we take collective action to build a safer DC.

The Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Act and our recommended changes would be a critical first step in making CASS’s mission of ending public sexual harassment and assault in DC a reality. The bill establishes confidentiality and privilege – normally just granted to doctors and lawyers – to the communication between survivors and trained sexual assault advocates. It also providers survivors with a right to have a trained advocate present at all times, including when speaking with law enforcement, medical providers and attorneys. Although the current draft bill allows these entities to deny this right if they feel it is “detrimental to their work,” CASS strongly advocates to remove such an exemption and allow survivors the full rights they deserve. We also called for the bill to require external oversight and review of how MPD handles sexual assault cases, as well as bring in an independent consultant to assist the police department in implementing all of these changes.

Julia Strange, our Director of Programs and Policy, as well as our Board member Dave Chandrasekaran, helped lead the coalition that organized survivors and local victims’ rights groups to participate in the hearing. Dressed in blue to show our support for survivors, your dedicated CASS staff (me included — check out my livetweets of the highly emotional testimony below) was seated directly behind the witness table during the entirety of the hearing with only a few breaks for quickly-scarfed granola bars and water. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, Julia and Dave are passionate, unpaid volunteers.

One hearing attendee, who’s participated in dozens of hearings before the DC Council, said this was easily one of the most powerful, moving and impactful hearings he’s ever witnessed. Even Committee Chairman Tommy Wells noted how impressed he was by the community’s turnout and performance that day. We want to recognize the courage of the survivors who participated in the hearing by giving their heart wrenching testimonies. And finally, the attention and sensitivity of Chairman Wells, who posed thoughtful questions and barely took any breaks himself.

The hearing was only the beginning in what will likely be a long road to achieving successful change in DC policy, but it was a very loud and resounding first step that made everyone take notice.

In the News (so far!)

Please consider supporting our organization, which works daily to provide a platform for the voices of survivors of sexual violence. Your donations will guarantee more timely and much-needed policy advocacy work that honors the experiences of survivors of sexual assault.


This post is part of 12 Days of CASS, our end-of-year series to highlight the work we’ve done in 2013 to prevent public sexual harassment and assault in DC.


Follow The Action!
Live Tweets from the 12/12 DC Council Hearing on the Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act (SAVRAA)! 

*Triggering descriptions of sexual violence and police victimization*

*Triggering descriptions of sexual violence and police victimization within*
Learn more about the bill: http://bit.ly/1gvuUKI
Learn more about the coalition: http://bit.ly/ITWXo8
Learn more about the Human Rights Watch report that started it all: http://bit.ly/19HbBGy