DC Justice for Survivors Campaign (DC JSC) Letter to DC Council

January 28, 2014

The Honorable Tommy Wells
Councilmember, Ward 6
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
Council of the District of Columbia
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Ave
Washington, D.C. 20004

Dear Chairman Wells,

The Justice for Survivors Campaign (JSC) is a grassroots coalition of the undersigned sexual assault survivors, direct service providers, advocacy organizations, allies and community members working to increase the rights of and improve services for survivors of sexual assault in the District of Columbia. To date, 19 organizations and 301 individual community members have signed on as supporters of the Campaign. (For more information on the Campaign, please see the addendum to this letter.)

JSC believes that sexual assault survivors must receive fair and compassionate treatment from first responders, service providers and members of law enforcement and the justice system. Additionally, we believe there should be greater transparency by agencies and organizations that work with survivors of sexual assault to reduce re-victimization.

In order to ensure appropriate survivor-centered policies and improved treatment of and response to those individuals who report sexual assault in DC, we strongly encourage you to support the passage of B20-417, the Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act (SAVRAA), with a few critical amendments.

Incidents of mistreatment and re-victimization of sexual assault survivors by DC law enforcement have been documented in numerous reports – including in Capitol Offense: Police Mishandling of Sexual Assault Cases in the District of Columbia (Human Rights Watch, January 24, 2013) as well as in survivor public testimony to the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety (Public Hearing, December 12, 2013). SAVRAA represents an important first step in improving law enforcement’s response to sexual assaults in DC. Specifically, the bill would enhance the processing of sexual assault forensic examination kits; grant sexual assault victims the right to have a trained sexual assault victim advocate present at medical and law enforcement proceedings (with certain exceptions); establish confidentiality between survivors and sexual assault victim advocates, and strengthen oversight and accountability of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

The Justice for Survivors Campaign strongly supports these measures outlined in SAVRAA. Timely and effective processing of sexual assault forensic examination kits can ensure that critical evidence can be collected, tested, and made available to the justice system if and when a criminal case occurs. Additionally, we believe that confidentiality between survivors and sexual assault victim advocates is a critical protection afforded to survivors to ensure that discussions geared towards recovering and healing from the trauma of sexual assault appropriately remain privileged.

Although JSC supports SAVRAA, we strongly believe that there are at least three critical policy measures that must be added to protect survivors of sexual assault to the fullest degree possible and improve handling of sexual assault criminal cases.  They include:

  1. Remove any exemption to a survivor’s right to a sexual assault victim advocate.

The current version of the bill creates a right for survivors to request that a trained sexual assault victim’s advocate be present during hospital exams and in interviews with the police, prosecutors and defense attorneys.  However, the bill allows a broad and ambiguous exemption to this right if medical personnel, or law enforcement or attorneys, determine that “the sexual assault victim advocate will be detrimental to the purpose of the examination” or “the purpose of the interview,” respectively.  Unlike the other entities involved in investigations, a sexual assault victim advocate’s priority is the best interest of the survivor.  Advocates not only play a critical role in providing immediate support after an assault, but they actually assist medical, law enforcement and other personnel in achieving their priority objectives by providing support to the survivor during exams and interviews. They receive extensive training to perform this role. Many leading jurisdictions around the country that have established a survivor’s right to an advocate do not include these exemptions, and the results have been improved outcomes for both the survivor as well as law enforcement. 

  1. Establish a comprehensive external sexual assault case review process.

Even with improved policies and standards for sexual assault investigations, police departments benefit from utilizing a collaborative case review process in which law enforcement, direct services, advocacy and other stakeholders ensure that best practices are being met, survivors are being treated appropriately, and cases are being processed properly.

Although the DC Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) has created a protocol for case review, it is not being implemented regularly. Baltimore, Philadelphia and many other jurisdictions have found monthly or bimonthly review of a random sample of sex offense cases through a formal review process to significantly improve the relationship between the public, service providers and law enforcement as well as improve the quality of investigations and victim treatment. In addition to the random sample of cases to be reviewed, sexual assault response team members may bring other specific cases to the attention of team members at these meetings. Service providers, law enforcement and government agencies have empowered sexual assault survivors through the minimization and resolution of case response issues and short-term response that regular case review enables.

The case review process should include clear objectives and methods based upon best practices nationally, and should include adequate government and non-governmental representation to ensure proper oversight. It could be established under the current Sexual Assault Response Team, or through another mechanism created by the DC Council.

  1. Require the inclusion of an independent consultant to assist with MPD with implementation of reforms.

There is a large body of research and best practices for sexual assault investigations and trauma-informed policing. An independent consultant would provide needed support to MPD with adopting and implementing further reforms, as well as earning back the public’s trust.  Additionally, utilizing an independent consultant would bring objectivity to the process.

The act of sexual assault is one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed, and a devastating experience for survivors. In DC, as in most parts of the country and around the world, an alarming percentage of women and men have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, yet a small fraction ever report the crime, due to shame, stigma, or a lack of trust in law enforcement response to this crime. This critical legislation will determine whether survivors who report their assault can begin the process of healing and obtaining justice or whether they will be re-victimized by the very public safety infrastructure intended to support them.

We believe that the District has the ability to help dramatically improve its response process for sexual assault survivors by adopting our recommended best practices. DC should follow other jurisdictions in becoming a leading example of effective collaboration between law enforcement, victim advocacy organizations and other stakeholders to ensure that survivors are treated fairly and perpetrators are held accountable. We believe DC Council can demonstrate significant leadership by strengthening the Sexual Assault Victim Rights Amendment Act of 2013 and ensuring its prompt enactment.

We look forward to working with members of the Council and are happy to provide additional background information, research, best practices and survivor testimonials.

Sincerely,
The As One Project
Break the Cycle
Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS)
The DC Center for the LGBT Community
DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC)
Defend Yourself
Everyday Feminism
Fem2pt0
FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture
Law Students for Reproductive Justice of American University
Mary’s Center for Maternal and Child Care, Inc.
National Association of Social Workers, DC Metro Chapter
National Council of Women’s Organizations
National Organization for Women, DC Chapter (DC NOW)
Pious Pagan Publishing
Ramona’s Way
Slutwalk D.C.
Stop Street Harassment
Washington College of Law’s Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

A. Allen, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Aaron Marks, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Abigail, DC Resident (Ward 4), Survivor
Abigail Collazo, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Abigail Stallworth
Airelle Theresa Smith, DC Resident (Ward 3)
AJ, DC Resident (Ward 1), Survivor
Alana Rush
Alessandra, DC Resident (Ward 7)
Alex Baddock, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Alexandra Bradley, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Alexandra “Sandi” Fox, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Alexandra Zuckerman, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Alisa Goldman, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Alison Damaskos, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Alison P., DC Resident (Ward 4)
Allie Robertson, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Allison Elder
Allison Korman
Allison S. Kopp, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Allyson Legnini, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Althea May Sellars, DC Resident (Ward 3), Survivor
Alys, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Alyssa Schimmel, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Amanda Kloer, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Amanda Lindamood, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Amanda Pyron
Amanda Teuscher, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Amy Hendrick, Survivor
Andrea Marcin, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Angela N. White
Angela Short, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Anna Clements, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Annie, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Anonymous, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Anton Altman, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Ashley L. Harrell, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Beth, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Brad Swanson
Brian Brotsos, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Brittany, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Brittany Alston Caballero, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Brittany Oliver
Brynne Keith-Jennings, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Callie Otto, DC Resident (Ward 1), Survivor
Camille Hawkins
Caroline, DC Resident (Ward 6), Survivor
Caroline Anderson, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Caroline O’Shea, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Carolyn Browender, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Chai Shenoy, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Charles Clymer, DC Resident (Ward 6), Survivor
Chetan Shenoy, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Chris McVicker, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Chrissy Z., DC Resident (Ward 5)
Christine Archer, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Christine Rodriguez, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Claire Mitchell, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Clare Bresnahan, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Colleen Gallopin, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Columbia Smith
Ms. Corinn
Corrine V, Survivor
Cory, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Craig Auster, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Craig French, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Danielle
Daniel Rappaport, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Dave Chandrasekaran, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Deanna Glickman, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Deanna J.
Deborah Rogers
Deborah Saint-Vil
Delaney Kloesel
Denise Snyder, DC Resident (Ward 4), Survivor
Denise Taylor, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Devin K. Trinkley, RN, DC Resident (Ward 7)
Diana Thu-Thao, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Donna Muller
Doug Foote, DC Resident (Ward 1)
E. Koerner, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Eileen Dombo, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Eleanor Gourley, Survivor
Elisabeth, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Elise M., DC Resident (Ward 4)
Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth O’Gorek, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Elizabeth Spergel, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Elsa Leon
Emily
Emily Bengtson, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Emily Biondo, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Emily Jakobsen, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Emily Morrison, DC Resident (Ward 1), Survivor
Emily Robichaux, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Emma, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Emma Din, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Eric Myers, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Erin Gray, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Erin McAuliff, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Erin Radford, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Erin Simmons, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Ethan Pollack, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Eugene Bord
Evan Camara
Farrah Lewis
George Gaines, DC Resident (Ward 3)
George Page, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Gianna Van Vuren, Survivor
Gina
Ginette Walls, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Gowri Koneswaran, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Graham Boyle, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Hannah Geyer, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Heather Booth, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Heather Brotsos, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Heather Goss, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Heather L., DC Resident (Ward 6)
Heather Rodgers, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Heidi Case, DC Resident (Ward 8), Survivor
Helen, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Helen Luryi, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Herschel Pecker, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Holly Kearl
Isabel Otero
Ivonne Ramirez, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Jackie Dolt, Survivor
Jade, Survivor
James A. Landrith, Survivor
Jamie S., DC Resident (Ward 1)
Jane Palmer, Ph.D.
Jason Bartles, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Jen Girdish, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Jenica Wright, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Jennifer Corey
Jennifer T., DC Resident (Ward 1)
Jesse Rabinowitz, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Jessica Lilly
Jessica Luczywo, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Jessica Reid, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Jessica Solomon, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Joni Podschun, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Joseph Vess, DC Resident (Ward 7)
Joy Welan, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Joya Taft-Dick, DC Resident (Ward 4)
JT, DC Resident (Ward 2), Survivor
Judah Ariel, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Julia Kann, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Julia Linfors, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Julia Strange, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Julie M.
Julie Mastrine
Julie Ost, DC Resident (Ward 5), Survivor
Justin C., DC Resident (Ward 6)
Justyn Hintze, DC Resident (Ward 3)
K.B., DC Resident (Ward 4), Survivor
Kara M., DC Resident (Ward 4), Survivor
Karen Mulhauser, DC Resident (Ward 6), Survivor
Karen Rosenberger
Kashif Syed, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Kate, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Katelyn, Survivor
Katherine Eyster, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Katie Ashmore, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Katie Beckman-Gotrich, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Katy Bristow, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Kelsey Altherton, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Kerry Green, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Kimberly Smith, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Kionna Jones (Ward 8), Survivor
KJ, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Kristina Klassen, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Krystal Simmons, DC Resident (Ward 4), Survivor
Kyle Pinto
Lacey Shaver, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Lanice Williams, DC Resident (Ward 1)
LaTierra
Laura Greenback, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Laura Henderson
Laurel Long
Lauren E. Brown
Lauren Kuritz, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Lauren Levine, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Lauren R. Taylor, Survivor
Lauren Redding, Survivor
Leigh
Lisa Sendrow, DC Resident (Ward 1), Survivor
Liz Gorman, DC Resident (Ward 4), Survivor
Lorraine Holmes, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Love Smith, DC Resident (Ward 8)
Mackenzie Baris, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Madeline, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Madeline Barnett, DC Resident (Ward 6), Survivor
Madeline Whitman, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Maggie R., DC Resident (Ward 1)
Mahri Irvine
Malinda Frevert, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Mandy Parente, Survivor
Marc Peters, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Marghet Hager, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Mari Schimmer, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Maria Romas, Survivor
Marisa Ferri, DC Resident (Ward 2), Survivor
Martha Allen, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Marty Langelan
Mason Wiley, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Matthew John, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Matthew Johnson, Survivor
Maureen Evans Arthurs
Maya Grodman, Survivor
Meagan Wills, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Meg M., DC Resident (Ward 1)
Megan Campbell, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Meggie
Meghan Rutherford, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Melanie Becker
Melanie Keller, Survivor
Melissa Kleder, DC Resident (Ward 1), Survivor
Michael Francum, MSW, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Michelle M.
Michelle McCurdy
Mindi Westhoff, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Miriam Stevens
Monica Kamen, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Monica Owens, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Natalie E., DC Resident (Ward 6)
Natasha Benfer, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Nbed
New Yorker, DC Resident (Ward 6), Survivor
Nicole Nichols, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Niko S., DC Resident (Ward 1)
Niva Haynes, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Noelle Magrino, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Nora Skelly, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Orelia Busch, DC Resident (Ward 5), Survivor
Pattee Gatica
Paula Shapiro, DC Resident (Ward 2)
R.D.
Rachel Oswald, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Raha Wala, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Ramin Katirai, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Rebecca, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Rebecca Armendariz, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Rebecca Krevat, Survivor
Regina
Renee Davidson, DC Resident (Ward 2), Survivor
Robyn Swirling, DC Resident (Ward 1), Survivor
Rosamund, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Ryane Ridenour, DC Resident (Ward 4)
S. L. Chemaly, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Sabrina Stevens, DC Resident (Ward 5), Survivor
Sam Geimer, Survivor
Samantha Frapart, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Samantha Lewis-Wright, DC Resident (Ward 2), Survivor
Samuel Blank, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Sandi Giver (Ward 1), Survivor
Sara Alcid, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Sara Blanco
Sara H., DC Resident (Ward 1)
Sarah Brammer-Shlay, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Sarah Jones, DC Resident (Ward 6), Survivor
Sarah Levine, MPH, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Sarah M., DC Resident (Ward 4)
Sarah Ziegenhorn, DC Resident (Ward 5)
Sasha Ponappa, DC Resident (Ward 5)
SC
Seth D. Michaels, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Shana Hofstetter, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Shana Pereira, DC Resident (Ward 4)
Shannon P.
Sherelle Hessell-Gordon, DC Resident (Ward 5), Survivor
Silvia Zenteno
Simmy Singh, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Sislena Grocer Ledbetter, Ph.D.
Spatel, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Stefanie, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Stephanie D., DC Resident (Ward 6)
Stephanie Roswell
Steven Fake, DC Resident (Ward 1)
Sujata Bhattarai
Susan S. Benson, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Susan Drobis, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Dr. Suzan Stafford, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Suzanne Haggerty, DC Resident (Ward 1), Survivor
Synta Keeling (Ward 7)
Talila Lewis
Tamara, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Tanisha Humphrey, DC Resident (Ward 7)
Tara Mancini, DC Resident (Ward 3)
Theresa Dill
Tiffani Nichole Johnson, J.D., DC Resident (Ward 4), Survivor
Trevy Homer
Trish Kent, DC Resident (Ward 2)
Val Vilott
Valerie Knott, Survivor
Victoria Thompson
Wanda C. White, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Will, DC Resident (Ward 6)
Zachary Dryden, DC Resident (Ward 4), Survivor
Zosia Sztykowski, DC Resident (Ward 1)

ADDENDUM

Overview of the Justice for Survivors Campaign:

  • June 2013: Crowell & Moring LLP publishes a report at the request of the DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, echoing many of the recommendations for reform of DC’s sexual assault response system advanced by HRW in its report.
  • June 2013: The Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act of 2013 (SAVRAA) is introduced by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Chairman Tommy Wells.
  • July 2013: The Sexual Violence Resource and Prevention Council (SVRPC) convenes a meeting to discuss the SAVRAA as well as any potential amendments to strengthen survivor rights and protections. Government agencies, organizations working with sexual assault survivors, and allies are all invited to participate.
  • July 2013: November 2013:  SVRPC members interested in improving the city’s handling of sexual assault cases recruit subject matter experts experienced in sexual assault response reform in DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and nationally, as well as survivors willing to share their personal experience with law enforcement in DC.
  • December 2013: The DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety holds a public hearing on B20-417 the Sexual Assault Victim’s Rights Amendment Act of 2013.  Over 50 witnesses, including representatives of organizations and individual survivors from the DC community, testify regarding the importance of reforming DC’s response to sexual violence.  The overwhelming majority support the passage of the SAVRAA, as well as the amendments recommended in this letter.
  • January 2014: In response to growing community interest and demand for reform, the Justice for Survivors Campaign is launched to provide a voice to survivors and other interested community stakeholders in this important debate.

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