How Survivors of Sexual Assault Are Making Their Voices Heard in DC

Marisa is a founding organizer of the DC Justice for Survivors Campaign (DC JSC), along with staff from CASS, DCRCC and DC NOW. In December, Marisa — who is a survivor of a sexual assault that took place in DC — testified before the DC Council in support of DC JSC’s recommended changes to critical legislation to protect survivors report sexual assault. “I thought my rape was the most traumatic experience of my life,” Marisa said at the public hearing. “But I was wrong. What was more traumatic was the way MPD treated me.”

In an interview with CASS, Marisa explains how her work with DC JSC has been an important tool for healing and why there’s a need for more collective action to ensure the rights of survivors.

Why did you get involved with the DC Justice for Survivors Campaign?
DC is lucky to have a lot of organizations working to make our community safer, but until this campaign was created, there hasn’t been a concrete vehicle for sexual assault survivors to make their collective voices heard. As a survivor-driven advocacy effort, we’re creating a platform for survivors to step into the forefront of change in our community.

How will this legislation — with DC JSC’s recommendations included — make a difference in the lives of DC residents who report sexual assault?
Passing — and more importantly, implementing — legislation that codifies the rights of survivors of sexual assault sends a powerful message to survivors that our community leaders care about their rights and are working to protect them. The most fundamental improvements that need to be made must come from the system actors themselves — police, prosecutors, health care providers and service providing organizations — but my hope is that this legislation spurs these actors into coordinated action. I believe that the community conversation around the need for this legislation has already sent the message that these entities need to self-assess the way that current policies and procedures help or unintentionally harm survivors.

What has it been like to work on this campaign?
Working with DC JSC has been enormously gratifying. For many survivors, our only interaction with the system has been from a position of seeking or receiving services. It has been an important part of my healing process to have an outlet for constructively engaging the system from a position of power and knowing that I bring something important to the table. Survivors have an insight into the way that sexual assault is addressed that is unique, and we can provide a valuable resource for the changemakers in our community that are working to improve the way that it is viewed and handled.

The landmark Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act (SAVRAA) is pending in DC Council, and we need as much support for #survivorrightsDC as possible! Haven’t yet signed on to show your support? Take a second to add your name, and let us know if you’d like to get involved!

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