‘‘Have courage and be kind.’’ These were the words Megan Rondini left behind on a whiteboard in her school apartment.
Yesterday, at a Sexual Assault on Campus Forum at Rice University in Houston, Texas, sponsored by the Victims’ Rights Caucus, Megan’s father, Mike Rondini, spoke these words. He is from Austin.
He tries to live by these words every day. Megan Rondini was sexually assaulted while a student at the University of Alabama in 2015.
Doing everything a sexual assault victim should do, Megan immediately called the police and went to the hospital, but the hospital did not have a sexual assault forensic examiner or a SANE on staff, meaning no one there was trained to properly deal with a sexual assault victim or properly collect DNA evidence for a rape kit.
As a former prosecutor and a judge, I have seen, firsthand, the trauma and pain that rape causes victims. Sometimes that pain never goes away.
The hospital’s failure to provide adequate care left Megan feeling hopeless and alone. After the hospital, she went to the police station, and there she was treated with disdain.
The police didn’t believe her and instead read her, the victim—get this—the Miranda warnings. Are you kidding me?
Rape is never the fault of the victim. When Megan sought counseling at the university, the counselor abruptly interrupted her and told her she was close to the family of the rapist and promptly turned Megan away, providing no other counselor.
Megan was completely failed by the system—by the university, the hospital, and the police. Mr. Speaker, not long after, she took her life.
Megan’s story is heartbreaking, but her memory reminds us that we must be tenacious in fighting sexual assault on campus and everywhere else. The unfortunate reality, Mr. Speaker, is that stories like Megan’s are common.
Congressmen OLSON, CULBERSON, and I joined together at the forum yesterday, and we all heard stories about this, firsthand, from victims. It is always personal.
When victims are ignored and rejected, they feel like they have been abandoned, and in many cases, they have been. They are forced to relive their attack over and over again.
Last year, I introduced, along with my friend, CAROLYN MALONEY, the bipartisan Megan Rondini Act, a bill that would require hospitals to provide access to a SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensics Examiner) or a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) or have a plan in place to get a victim to a nearby hospital that can provide forensic medical services.
Professor and sexual assault nurse examiner Nancy Downing from Texas A&M testified yesterday that by providing SANEs to rape victims, a hospital can dramatically improve a victim’s chance to recover emotionally and medically from the attack. In addition, I am a cosponsor to CAROLYN MALONEY’S (NY) bipartisan legislation to require colleges to have a sexual assault victim advocate on staff to assist and advise sexual assault victims.
There should be no more school counselors that turn victims away. The director of public policy for Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, Chris Kaiser, also testified, and he talked about how the Association and other associations are working on many levels to provide a culture of change within law enforcement and the attitude of peace officers regarding this type of crime, and also, more reporting require.
Treating victims like criminals is never okay. Remember, Mr. Speaker, rape is never the fault of the victim. As we become more aware of this dastardly crime, some schools, like Rice University, have made excellent strides to address sexual assault on campus.
The Rice dean of undergraduates, Dr. John Hutchinson, and former Rice student body president, Justin Onwenu, both testified about the many positive proactive steps Rice has taken; a guide for other universities. Rice University requires all students to participate in a student-driven 6- week course that teaches young college students to notice the signs of sexual assault and work to change the culture that allows sexual assault to occur on campus.
It is work like this that will help foster a culture change where survivors of sexual assault will feel supported by our community. Sexual assault on campus must end.
We must change the culture to prevent this crime. We must give victims support to recover and become survivors, and we must let offenders know they will be held accountable for their acts, and they will meet the law. Mr. Speaker, we should follow the words of Megan Rondini: ‘‘Have courage, and be kind.’’
And that is just the way it is, Mr. Speaker.