D.C. summit encourages colleges to address sexual assault on campus

WASHINGTON – Wendy Wyler graduated from Southern Connecticut State University in 2012, but she’s still haunted by the sexual harassment she says came at the hands of a college professor in a classroom her junior year.

As a junior in 2011, the professor led her to a storage room, blocked her only exit, and propositioned her for sex, she says.

“The thought of the enclosed space of the room still has the power to take my breath away,” says Wyler, who has a federal civil lawsuit pending against SCSU for a Title IX violation.

Wyler, and other sexual assault victims, told their stories at the day-long National Campus Sexual Assault Summit at the Georgetown University Law Center in the District Friday. The event was broadcast live to more than 300 college campuses.

Organizers say their goal is to get colleges to encourage victims of rape to report their incidents, and for college officials to better investigate reported sexual assaults.

Nineteen percent of undergraduate women have experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college, according to a 2012 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s a number Angela Rose wants to see at zero.

“What we’ve encouraged universities to…work together on all college campuses to really create some social change,” says Rose, summit host and founder of Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment (PAVE).

Rose also told her story of being kidnapped and raped by a man when she was 17 years old, which led her to create PAVE shortly after.

When President Obama signed an updated version of the Violence of Against Women Act in March, it also included provisions for colleges on how to treat reports of sexual assaults on campus.

Under the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, schools are required to protect the identity of the victim reporting an assault, provide in writing what procedures victims should follow if they’re assaulted and determine how the school will help enforce a protective order for students.

Laura Dunn’s story of her reported rape while a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which was profiled in a series of reports by the Center for Public Integrity, was instrumental in the passage of Campus SaVE Act.

As she spoke during the summit, Dunn urged victims to help each other and speak out against the violence they’ve suffered.

“Sometimes you’re not believed, but we can’t let that stand,” she says. “As activists, we’re not just fighting for campuses to change, we’re fighting communities to change.”

Follow @tewarren and @WTOP on Twitter.

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