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Opinion D.C. has a new law to help student victims of sexual assault

In 2021, D.C. implemented the Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act of 2019. The act gives 13- to 17-year-old victims of sexual assault in the U.S. the right to an advocate. Michele Booth Cole, Ashley Harrell and Jordan Barksdale are advocates for Safe Shores. They say schools must educate students, faculty, staff, parents, caregivers and contractors about the right teens now have to a victim's right to a sexual assault advocate. Writers: Schools have a nonnegotiable duty to protect students and report allegations of abuse and assault timely to law enforcement. They say the city’s middle and high schools could be natural allies of teens. At a minimum, schools have a legal and ethical obligation to report.

D.C. schools could play a powerful role in addressing an underlying criminal justice and public health problem. Often, teen victims don’t tell anyone about the violence they’ve experienced because of shame, threats by the perpetrator, fear of not being believed. Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, originally uttered the phrase “me too” silently to herself after being unable to respond to a 13-year-old girl who confided to her that she had been sexually assaulted. Burke said she later wished she had simply told the girl: “Me too.”