With millions of college students nationwide beginning a new year, the importance of sexual violence education and prevention on campus is top of mind.
Like many college freshmen, Gwen Washington thought she had found the perfect school in a quiet town outside of the big city. Ultimately, the school’s location didn’t make a difference; just before sophomore year, Gwen was assaulted in her dorm room.
Gwen’s perpetrator wasn’t a masked stranger hiding in the bushes. He was a senior on campus, and well-liked by his peers. He was attractive, athletic and “all-American.” When she declined his advances, something set him off. “He seemed to have a ‘no one turns me down’ attitude,” Gwen says. One week later, he came into Gwen's dorm room and raped her repeatedly, all night. The next morning, he left the state, leaving behind all his belongings. Gwen’s hunch is that she was not his first victim.
College-aged students are four times more likely than any other age group to be victims of sexual assault, often times by someone they know. In fact, approximately two-thirds of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. Gwen says her school didn't educate students about sexual assault effectively: “Sexual assault on college campuses used to be a hidden secret that no one wanted to talk about,” Gwen says. “It's now becoming a topic that every student in the country is starting to talk about!"
Gwen’s friends and family were very supportive following her attack. She chose not to press charges in fear of retaliation in the small town. Gwen did, however, find helpful ways to assist her recovery. She sought help through the National Sexual Assault Hotline  (1-800-656-HOPE), sought out counseling, and took up Tae Bo and other forms of empowering exercise. She transferred schools and changed her major to Psychology. As a senior, she decided to go back to her original college and shared her story with the student body, educating them about sexual violence.
Gwen continues to give back on a daily basis as a professional in the social services field, helping children with disabilities. In addition, after graduate school, she started her own non-profit organization, the Leila Grace Foundation . The organization conducts prevention programs for colleges, providing education that can reduce the risk of sexual assault.
Gwen is also a member of RAINN’s speakers bureau , helping the public understand sexual assault through her personal experience. “The speaker's bureau gave me the chance to not just share my story,” says Gwen, “but to inspire other survivors to speak openly to heal their pain.”