WASHINGTON — Survivors of stalking and sexual assault testified Thursday in favor of two D.C. bills designed to protect them.
One would expand the right of a survivor to have access to a victim advocate. Another would prevent D.C. government records from revealing personal information about victims of crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault.
During Thursday’s hearing before the D.C. Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, one woman, who asked that her name not be used, explained that she had been the victim of a stalker — an ex-boyfriend who had been tracking her for years. In March of 2015, she filed for and got a civil protection order.
“But even with a restraining order, a piece of paper doesn’t protect me from someone showing up at my door,” she said.
She combed through her online profile and found that her personal information, including her home address, was readily available to the public on D.C. government websites.
“My stalker and abuser can find me online because the government posts my information,” she said.
She explained to the committee that trying to keep her information private can be exhausting and exposes her to potential future abuse.
In a voice choked with emotion, she told the committee how “every three to four months, I do an online search and I find my name online.”
Under one of the bills the committee is considering, home, work and school addresses could be removed from D.C. government records that are normally publicly accessible. The bill would create something called an “Address Confidentiality Program” and would be administered by the Office of Victim Services. The plan would include creating a “substitute address” to keep the victim’s information private.
Another bill would extend the services of victim advocates, including offering those services to children and teenagers aged 12-17 who have been victimized. Currently, children and teens in that age group have their cases referred to Child Protective Services, where the decisions about moving forward on allegations are handled. The bill under consideration would have a victim advocate work directly with the child to guide them through the legal process.
A sexual assault survivor who was attacked in her own home testified in favor of the bill, saying that the days and weeks following her attack were a blur and that she was, in her own words, “not an effective witness.”
The case against her attacker was eventually dropped. She told the committee her attacker assaulted another woman three months after she was assaulted. He was jailed for that offense, the witness explained, but within six months of his release, he attacked a third victim.
Looking back, the witness told the D.C. panel, “I can’t help but think that if I had had an advocate, that perhaps I would have been a more effective witness.”
And in that case, she said, speaking through tears, “If I had been a more effective witness, maybe no one else would have gotten hurt.”
A third witness testifying before the committee explained how a victim advocate’s support made a difference in helping her deal with the impact of a harrowing attack in which a man raped her after breaking into her home.
Telling the panel that she cowered under her bed until had police arrived, she said: “As soon as I saw the light, the first victim to hold me was my victim’s advocate. She covered me with a warm blanket and never let me go.”
The bills — The Sexual Assault Victim’s Rights Amendment of 2017 and the Victim Services Omnibus Amendment Act of 2017 — could be considered for further action after a report is drafted and the council resumes sessions in September.