For two Boston city councillors, sexual assault issue is personal

Advocates for victims of sexual assault gathered Tuesday at City Hall to push for stronger anti-rape policies on college campuses, where, they say, one out of five undergraduate women experience an attempted or completed sexual assault during their time there.

For a pair of city councillors, the issue is personal.

In March, City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley said she had been raped while a student at Boston University.

“Several weeks ago, I publicly disclosed the trauma and shame I experienced due to my own college rape,” Pressley said at the hearing on Tuesday evening. “Every survivor’s process is different. For me, it was time, and I’ve no regrets, because aside from a judgmental and ignorant minority, I have received hundreds of disclosures from other survivors who have sought help for the first time, acknowledged, even if only to themselves, what happened to them, and realized perhaps the most valuable lesson of all: This is not our shame.”

Newly elected District 7 Councillor Tito Jackson, who is adopted, revealed that his biological mother was sexually assaulted by two strangers when she was 13. Jackson, a lifelong Dorchester resident, learned about that rape years ago when he spoke to the adoption agency about his medical history. He sometimes spoke of it to groups while he was at the University of New Hampshire, he said.

Jackson remains unaware of his biological mother’s identity, he said. He was adopted by Herb and Rosa Jackson and still lives in Grove Hall. His colleagues at the hearing, chaired by Pressley, comforted him after he softly relayed the story in his opening remarks at the City Council hearing.

Pressley, also a Dorchester resident, and Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo co-sponsored the session. “I strongly thank her as well as Councillor Arroyo on standing tall when it comes to this issue,” Jackson said. “It’s something I feel men have to take a leading role on,” he added.

According to the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, up to 15.5 percent of college women are sexually victimized during the academic year. And one out of sixteen college men have experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college.

Pressley and Arroyo said the hearing was an opportunity for local college campuses to look at ways to take the lead in preventative programs.

More information is available at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. Their number is 617-492-8306 and the hotline is 800-841-8371.