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Lawmakers Want To Make Rape Survivor’s Letter Required Reading

Photo caption:

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Students are shown walking on the campus of San Diego State University, Feb. 8, 2016.

Two San Diego congressional members want to ensure all college freshmen read a letter written by a woman who was raped by a Stanford University student in 2015.

Millions have read it. Now Reps. Susan Davis and Juan Vargas, both San Diego Democrats, want to ensure future generations also read the letter written by a woman who was raped by a Stanford University student in 2015. The letter went viral this year because of its raw account of what unfolded after the attack.

Davis this week asked the University of California and California State University systems to include the letter in their assault prevention and consent trainings for students. Vargas and several other lawmakers also signed on to Davis' request.

“It’s important that all university students hear the words of this young woman who has powerfully articulated the emotions and thoughts surrounding the attack on her,” Davis said in a news release.

Representatives for both university systems said they're considering the lawmakers' request. Local advocates say the letter could leave a meaningful impression on students.

"I have been doing this work since the early 2000s, and I have never seen the public engage in this much dialogue or support in this way," Marielle Downes, chief operating officer of the Center for Community Solutions, said of the public's response to the woman's letter.

The Center for Community Solutions operates several rape crisis centers throughout the county and helps local universities and community groups provide assault prevention training.

"Any strategy put forward that would be inclusive of the survivor's voice and the survivor's perspective, we would be in support of that," Downes said.

She warned that all survivors' experiences are different, and that the reflections in the letter aren't universal.

One lesson from the letter that is universal, Downes said, is the need for the community as a whole to work to prevent sexual violence.

Jennifer Rikard, who heads counseling and psychological services at San Diego State agreed.

"In this letter, there's a very powerful account of some very effective bystander intervention, and that's powerful for the community to hear," Rikard said.

Rikard said in addition to considering the letter in its curriculum, San Diego State could make other improvements next year. It's awaiting results from a campus climate survey given to students last school year to help inform and evaluate their services. It's due out later this summer.

Meanwhile, two bills that would toughen sexual assault laws are moving through the California Senate.

One would require prison time for sexual assaults against unconscious individuals. The woman who wrote the letter was unconscious during the attack. Many were outraged that the assailant in the Stanford case was sentenced to six months in county jail and probation instead of the maximum penalty, 14 years in state prison. A second law would expand the definition of rape to include all types of penetration.

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