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A survivor’s take on justice after sexual violence

As a college athlete, Laura Dunn was sexually assaulted by two male teammates. Her subsequent experience with campus, criminal and civil authorities failing to take action motivated her to become a lawyer and found SurvJustice, a nonprofit organization that helps victims of sexual violence seek justice. She offers her brief but spectacular take on turning trauma into action.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last Sunday was International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

    In tonight's Brief But Spectacular episode, Laura Dunn, an attorney who founded SurvJustice, a national nonprofit that helps sexual assault victims seek justice, reflects on her experience as a survivor of sexual assault and how it moved her to take action.

  • Laura Dunn:

    Two men on the crew team at the University of Wisconsin, where I was also a coxswain in rowing, made a decision to sexually assault me. They took advantage when I had been drinking and partying, like so many freshmen do.

    And, unfortunately, I didn't know what to do about it. I thought that rape was a stranger. I thought it was someone who would attack me on the street. And the reality is that most sexual violence is committed by acquaintances, people you think you can trust, people you thought you knew.

    I first turned to the campus, asking for them to assist. And Title IX, which is a federal law, required them to take action. But they didn't. Two parties were drinking. They said, we can't do anything about that.

    So, sexual violence was swept under the rug, like it has been for decades.

    I also sought justice in the criminal system. And I was told by the prosecutor that what happened to me was reprehensible, but it wasn't illegal, because, in the state of Wisconsin, alcohol wasn't considered an intoxicant under the state statute. In other words, there's no such thing as being too drunk to consent.

    And last, but certainly not least, I hired a civil attorney, thinking that that may be the only avenue of justice available to me. That attorney took my money, and then he did nothing.

    And by the time I went back, saying, what can you do to help, the statute of limitations passed. By being denied justice in the campus, criminal and civil system, I became a fighter. I decided to go to law school to become the attorney I wish I had on campus.

    I knew that I could be that lawyer for others. I knew I could found an organization like SurvJustice to make sure no one felt alone.

    We want law enforcement to be better at dealing with survivors. We want colleges to do more to prevent and respond to sexual violence. We even train judges to better understand these cases and the complex legal issues that arise.

    So often in dealing with campus sexual assault, we see repeated patterns. We see that those who are victimized were drinking, or maybe they were dating the person that ended up assaulting them. And they fear reporting. They fear that they will be judged, that they will be disbelieved, that they will be shamed by society.

    I know, from my personal experience, what it's like not to be believed after sexual violence. I know what it's like to seek justice and never get it. It can feel like nothing's ever going to change.

    But there's a reason I fight, because I have seen change. I have seen hope, first on campus sexual assault, but I believe that a bigger wave is coming.

    With MeToo, with No More, with the Women's March, there is growing will, there is growing change. And all of us have the opportunity to make a difference on this issue. All of us can get justice for survivors by raising our voice and saying, this needs to end.

    My name is Laura Dunn. And this is my Brief But Spectacular take on justice after sexual violence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you, Laura Dunn.

    And you can find additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site. That's PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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