Julie Weil describes how she became an advocate for sexual assault victims and the steps we can all take to help bring offenders to justice.
As a survivor of sexual assault, I realized (after my perpetrator was locked up), I started reading the news again and watching TV and I saw that he’s not the only one. This is happening every day. What I decided to do was to go out and I made a list of safety tips on my own and I started going out to preschools, daycares, churches, temples, trying to warn people of the dangers of sexual assault in the community.
I started having people who were saying, “We don’t talk about sexual assault very much”. In the area that I live in there’s a lot of domestic violence training, but there weren’t a lot of people who were willing to talk about sexual assault.
So, my first piece of advice is we need to create empowered survivors, because a survivor voice is very powerful when you’re sitting down with somebody whose only experience with sexual assault is what they see on TV. To see somebody in the flesh and blood that this has happened to and really the havoc that this wreaks on somebody’s life really changes their perceptions, and also I can’t say enough about the power of people writing to their congressman.
I worked for years and years on Capitol Hill to pass the SAFER Act (Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting) Act and to help pass a law that just took effect in my home-state of Florida on July 1st to help eliminate the backlog. It was all about getting people involved. People I knew. Please write your congressman. Please explain to them that funding is the biggest hurdle to getting these kits tested.
In addition to that is educating people on what is the backlog? I think that most people that I talk to think that the backlog is that there are 13,000 kits in line on the labs in Florida, and we just don’t have enough analysts to process them.
Whereas we do need more analysts for the onslaught of DNA that is coming their way, people don’t realize that when a kit goes to law enforcement, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be tested. I watched, firsthand, at the hospital the nurse hand a box, the kit, to the police officer. It did not dawn on me for one second that the kit wouldn’t be tested.
And I think to all those women, and men, who have had kits done and just assumed it went to the lab, we need to educate people and let them know that there’s discretion between the hospital and the testing. There’s a lot of things that happen in between, and those kits can get lost; they can be dismissed, because the prosecutor doesn’t think that there’s enough evidence, or the police officer doesn’t think that there’s enough to go forward.
Educate people on what the backlog is and get people outraged enough that they write their congressman and they start getting involved in their communities educating other people.
My rapist ended up being a date rapist also. After my trial, a woman reached out to me and said that in the state of Virginia, he had raped her, and she went for a rape kit, but because it was an acquaintance situation, they never tested it. Why test it if you know whose DNA is in the box? Well, what happened is that date rapist didn’t stay a date rapist. He went on to spousally rape two of his wives and then he started to abduct people off the streets.
People need to realize sexual predators don’t just come in two varieties – stranger and acquaintance rapist. They vacillate between the two. They’re sexual predators. Every kit counts. I think educating people and victims educating people and going out there and saying that every kit matters.
I am one person. The state of Florida had 13,462 kits in backlog. That’s 13,462 people just like me who deserve justice. It shouldn’t matter where you live. Whether you live in Birmingham, Detroit, LA, Miami, everybody deserves the same standard of care when it comes to sexual assault, so it’s everybody’s issue.
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