Kuster hears from sexual assault victims

Leads new congressional task force to stop assaults

Staff photo by Damien Fisher Annie Kuster meets with a host of local officials on the front lines of dealing with sexual violence during a roundtable discussion Tuesday at Rivier University.

NASHUA – “I don’t have the nightmares anymore,” Angela said.

Speaking at Rivier University on Tuesday, Angela, who asked that her last name not be used, told her story about being a survivor of sexual assault. She had headed off to a Christian college as an eager first-year student.

“I was a pretty happy-go-lucky, normal girl,” Angela said.

Early in the academic year, Angela said she went to a party and had too much to drink. She went to a male friend for help, and she said he raped her.

Getting herself to a hospital in the aftermath of that assault, Angela said she was blamed for the rape by the nurses who treated her. They told her she had been drinking and questioned her conduct.

“The first thing the nurses said to me was, ‘What were you wearing?’ “ Angela said.

She was overcome with guilt and shame, and left the hospital without doing a rape kit or filing a police report. She spiraled through depression and into a pit that led her to a suicide attempt.

Finally, her boyfriend at the time convinced her to seek help through Bridges: Domestic & Sexual Violence Support, a nonprofit that helps women who are survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking and child sexual assault.

Angela’s story, sadly, is all too common, said U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H. Kuster led a series of meetings throughout the state on Tuesday, such as the one at Rivier, to promote the work of the new Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence.

Kuster was inspired to take on sexual violence after the story of a campus rape at Stanford. The victim in the Stanford case, known as Emily Doe, showed bravery in the face of her assault and the resulting trial of her attacker, Kuster said.

“In a sense, we’re all Emily Doe,” Kuster said.

It was Doe’s statement at the trial in California, after which the rapist, Brock Turner, served a three-month jail sentence, that prompted Kuster to reveal her own history of having been the victim of sexual violence. The case gained national attention.

Kuster experienced sexual violence at college and later as a young woman working in Washington, D.C., when she was attacked coming home.

Kuster said she initially blamed herself for the violence, but now she sees the pattern that has to stop.

“We need to change the way we think about this,” Kuster said.

In New Hampshire, 22 percent of women report being the victims of sexual assaults, and 5 percent of men also report having been assaulted, Kuster said.

The task force is focused on dealing with campus sexual assaults, assaults in the military and online harassment of victims. It is also working on ways to educate children about consent and finding a way to reduce the backlog of rape kits that haven’t yet been processed.

More resources are needed for women who survive sexual assault, Kuster said, and those resources need to look like the assistance given through Bridges. Dawn Ream, with the Nashua-based Bridges, said 2,300 women like Angela came to her organization for help last year.

Angela was able to take what she learned at Bridges and bring it back to her college, where she started support groups for other women. She was also able to report a rash of assaults to the faculty.

Telling people, without shame, is the first step for the survivors, she said.

“It’s a huge awareness issue,” Angela said.