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New Hampshire Representative Gets Personal And Political About Sexual Assault

Rebecca Sananes
Rep. Ann Kuster, center, in blue, of New Hampshire stands outside the Lebanon headquarters of WISE, a non-profit aimed at advocacy and providing resources for sexual assault and domestic violence.

New Hampshire Rep. Ann Kuster is one of several lawmakers that have spoken out against sexual violence in the past few weeks. Kuster has publicly shared her stories of sexual assault, the first of which took place at a Dartmouth College fraternity party nearly 40 years ago. 

Kuster was one of 17 members of the U.S. Congress that spoke out against campus sexual assaults after a judge sentenced a man convicted of a rape at Stanford University to just six months in prison.

“We rise tonight to show our continuing support for the woman known to the world as Emily Doe,” Kusterof the 2nd district in New Hampshire, said on June 20. We "join with all of our sisters at Stanford and on college campuses and in communities around the nation with one simple message to America: We are all Emily Doe."

Emily Doe is how the victim's name was documented by the court; she later released an open victim statement about her experiences during the rape and aftermath.

Kuster helped push the hashtag #survivorsspeak. She started by sharing, on the floor of the U.S. House, her own stories: “I'm going to start my remarks 40 years ago on a cold winter night at a prestigious college campus, this time on the East Coast. I was an an 18-year-old student,” she said.

The East Coast school where Kuster was first assaulted is Dartmouth College.

Approximately one in four women in New Hampshire report having been sexually assaulted, according to Kuster. And those are just the girls and women that report the incidents.

At a round table atin Lebanon on Monday, Kuster discussed legislation aimed at stemming sexual assault on campuses. The session was held at WISE, a non-profit crisis and advocacy center for domestic and sexual violence.

One of the bills Kuster's hoping to pass is the Safe Transfer Act.

“It would require universities to include information related to campus sexual assault on the perpetrator's transcript to protect students if the sexual predator transfers to a new school,” she explained.

"[The Safe Transfer Act] would require universities to include information related to campus sexual assault on the perpetrator's transcript ...if the sexual predator transfers to a new school." - Rep. Ann Kuster

WISE and Dartmouth have a unique arrangement. A liaison from WISE works as a third-party advocate at the college, providing counseling and resources to those who have experienced sexual violence on campus.

Peggy O'Neil, the executive director of WISE, says this model is important because “by being independent, there's no confusion for the student or for the players involved about what our role is.”

She continued: “Our role is there solely for the student victim. We're not an employee of the college. We don't have bosses on campus.”

Dartmouth student Katherine McAvoy says she's seen positive change on campus just in the three years since she started at the college.

“I think the conversations are getting more nuanced,” she told the group at WISE. “So not just sexual violence is bad, but let's actually talk about consent. Let's talk about all the nuances here. Let's talk about behaviors we've been socialized into thinking are okay that are actually not really all that healthy and we should stop those.”

Rep. Kuster says one way to move forward is to share personal accounts of sexual assault and make the conversation more public.

Rebecca Sananes was VPR's Upper Valley Reporter. Before joining the VPR Newsroom, she was the Graduate Fellow at WBUR and a researcher on a Frontline documentary.
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