By Jess Bidgood
BOSTON — Ayanna Pressley pulls a postcard out of her purse. It’s one of many pieces of mail the Boston city councilor has received since she revealed last month that she was raped while she was an undergraduate studying at Boston University.
“There is no question in my mind you are a liar, phony, bitch just looking for headlines,” reads the postcard. “Smart citizens will know what you are doing, and they will know in the future that you are no damn good.”
Pressley is working to change university policies on sexual assault, which she says is a massively underreported crime. She says women who come forward with stories of sexual assault face distrustful, negative accusations, like the one on the postcard.
“It can make one feel incredibly vulnerable to disclose this sort of crime,” Pressley told WGBH’s Emily Rooney on Tuesday. “It is a crime of silence, the fear of judgment, accusations.”
That, Pressley said, is what keeps many victims of sexual assault from coming forward – and it’s why she went public with her own experience (although she has not said whether she came forward about her attack during college).
Pressley and co-sponsor Councilor Felix Arroyo will hold a hearing at the end of the month about what Boston’s colleges and universities can do to create campus environments that better encourage students to come forward if they are raped or otherwise sexually assaulted.
Pressley isn’t alone in her work to prevent sexual assault. On Monday, Vice President Joe Biden announced a new set of federal guidelines for educators about their responsibilities to prevent sexual violence.
“Look folks, rape is rape is rape,” said Vice President Joe Biden in New Hampshire on Monday. “No matter what a girl does, no matter how she’s dressed, no matter what she’s had to drink, it’s never okay to touch her without her consent.”
Biden said the Obama administration would now view sexual assault not just as a crime, but as a human rights violation.
Pressley says an important key to whether new regulations will help is whether they help change the way sexual assault perceived on campus. “In order for us to really have the change we’re looking for, you have to change culture,” Pressley said.
To that end, Pressley is calling on Boston-area colleges and universities to establish top-down change, establishing an environment of zero-tolerance for sexual assault that better encourages victims to come forward.
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