On Thursday, October 1, 2015, the Victim Rights Law Center (VRLC) held its annual fundraiser, the Shining Star Gala, at the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse. The VRLC is the first nonprofit law center in the country solely dedicated to serving the critical legal needs of rape and sexual assault victims, and through the efforts of hundreds of volunteer attorneys, this organization is able to provide free, trauma-informed civil legal services to survivors throughout Massachusetts.

As a young, female attorney I was proud to join my colleagues at Jones Kelleher as we gathered to support this important event.  While there was much celebration, the evening also shed light on the persistent issue of campus sexual assault, which has become a national topic of discussion thanks in large part to the efforts of the VRLC and its collaboration with Lynn Rosenthal, First White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, who was presented with the VRLC’s 2015 Leadership Award.

Attorney Stacy Malone, Executive Director of the VRLC explained that “… as VRLC attorneys were encountering obstacles with sexual assault cases over and over – victims dropping out of school and perpetrators continuing along their trajectories without disruption – we decided to reach out to Lynn and present her with a policy paper on our campus sexual assault cases in Massachusetts.  She invited the VRLC to Washington, D.C. to have our first of several conversations on how to raise the profile of what is happening on college campuses across the country . . .”

The issue of campus sexual assault has been launched to the forefront of the national dialogue, and recent statistics have been staggering.  A poll of 27 universities performed by the Association of American Universities revealed that more than one-fourth of undergraduate women said they had been sexually assaulted by force or when they were incapacitated.  A highlight of the results demonstrated that less than 30% of even the most serious incidents were reported to an organization or agency, such as law enforcement.  More than half of the victims claimed they chose not to report because they did not consider the event “serious enough,” because they were embarrassed or ashamed, or because they did not think anything would be done about it.  Colby Bruno, Senior Legal Counsel at the VRLC spoke to me about the issue:

“The national attention to the problem of campus sexual assault has propelled the movement forward and brought a heightened awareness to anyone and everyone who is paying attention.  That said, there are still many, many people in our country who want to deny that rape and sexual assault happen on campus . . . Instead of doubting the victims, we need to find ways to support people who come forward and disclose this horrific crime.”

Audrey Poore, Associate

I feel a strong connection to VRLC, particularly as a result of the work I have done with my firm, representing victims of campus sexual assault. Working on behalf of victims of sexual assault has been the most meaningful to me.  With one in four undergraduate women affected, it is likely that we all have a friend, a sister, a daughter, or an acquaintance who has been a victim of sexual assault on her campus.  The nature of these acts has blurred our understanding of consent and assault, as many victims are abused while they are drunk or otherwise incapacitated, and assaulted by someone they know.  Unlike occurrences of stranger rape, reports of campus sexual assaults are too often disbelieved, ignored, or rationalized as drunken misunderstandings.

As a woman and as an attorney, I feel a responsibility to raise awareness about the realities of sexual assault and to help these victims reclaim their voice and their dignity.  College is a time when women should be growing into independent and empowered adults, and for too long have college-aged victims faced a lack of support and insensitivity from those in power to protect them.  Jones Kelleher has compassionately represented victims of sexual abuse in a nuanced area of law that can be challenging to navigate and has helped them to seek legal recourse not only from their abusers but from the universities and institutions that have contributed to this culture of indifference and denial.

To learn about volunteer opportunities at the VRLC, visit http://www.victimrights.org/ways-contribute/volunteer/pro-bono-legal-services.  If you, or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault or rape and want to speak with an attorney, you can contact us at 617-737-3100.

Related Attorney  Audrey R. Poore

AUDREY R. POORE

Associate

Audrey R. Poore is an associate with Jones Kelleher in the firm’s Boston office. Audrey’s practice focuses on personal injury and medical malpractice.

Prior to joining Jones Kelleher, Audrey served as a judicial fellow to the Honorable Jacqueline Allen and the Honorable Genece E. Brinkley in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

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