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Students are being retraumatized when they report sexual assault. Here’s how to stop it

Let me tell you why California college students need Senate Bill 493.

When I got accepted to a California university in 2016, I was the first in my family to go to college. I was ecstatic, and I loved my school.

But then a guy I was seeing, a fellow student, became abusive. He drugged me, raped me, hit me, threatened to kill me and tried to pimp me out. When I tried to report him, I was offered a meeting with my school’s dean, who failed to tell me about my right to file a complaint and launch an investigation. The school did nothing.

I wasn’t told about the Title IX complaint process until I tried to report him a second time. At that point, I was so desperate for help and hope that I trusted the school officials involved. I told them everything, assuming they would help me.

I didn’t think they would try to discredit me, use my story against me and tell me it was my fault, all in an attempt to get me to drop the complaint. I didn’t think the investigation would become a nightmare that would consume more than a year of my life.

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I was lucky enough to find another survivor of my same assailant at my school. Amelia also filed a Title IX complaint and was going through the same nightmare. But we almost didn’t find each other because the school actively tried to keep us apart, telling us we weren’t allowed to speak. The former dean even told Amelia’s mother not to trust me.

Thankfully, Amelia and I didn’t listen, and I was glad to finally have a partner in fighting for what I knew was right. Neither of us wanted to see this happen to anyone else.

Throughout the entire process, it was clear to us both that none of the school officials had proper training. They seemed to have no idea what they were doing. Even after reporting, my assailant still freely walked around campus. The only difference was now he was really angry at me. I worried what he or his friends might do in retaliation. I didn’t feel safe outside my dorm. I stopped going to classes and the gym. I lost a lot of friends.

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Unfortunately, my experience was a relatively common one. An estimated 34 percent of college sexual assault survivors drop out.

This is why California students need SB 493. The bill would make sure our colleges have sufficient processes in place to deal with sexual assault and harassment, without retraumatizing survivors and further disrupting their education. Schools would have to notify students about complaint procedures and timelines, conduct fair, transparent investigations, and provide trauma-informed training to all officials involved, as well as training on implicit bias and the history of racism in school discipline.

Students need to know what’s coming if they report. They need to be able to prepare themselves mentally and emotionally. And they need trained, neutral school officials who can walk them through the process without victim-blaming.

I didn’t give up, by the way. Even after I left the school, I didn’t drop the complaint. In the end, I was no longer just fighting for myself. Like other survivors I’ve met, at some point, it became about other girls – those who can’t come forward.

But survivors can’t keep shouldering this burden on our own. We need those in power to step up and pass SB 493.

Julia Sanchez is a student survivor of sexual assault.
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