Taylor & Ring is pleased to announce that we have selected the winner of the 2018 Taylor & Ring Annual Victim Advocate Scholarship. Please join us in congratulating Ashley Johnson, who will start at Berkeley Law School this August!
Ashley impressed us in so many ways. Not only is she an extraordinary an incredibly driven young woman, but she is also a survivor herself, who has seen firsthand how outdate laws and statutes are hurting our justice system. We are honored to reprint her essay here, about her own experiences with the civil justice system and her goals for the future, with her permission.
All of us at Taylor & Ring say, Congratulations, Ashley, on your acceptance to Berkeley Law School and on winning our scholarship award!
Ashley Johnson’s Essay
I am pursuing a legal education because my goal is to become an attorney advocating for changes in laws and public policies regarding sexual assault and victims’ rights. Through both my own experience as a victim of sexual assault and through my work with the Rape Treatment Center at UCLA Medical Center, I have come to see how outdated statutes conflict with and impede a prosecutor’s ability to hold perpetrators accountable. My initial anger surrounding my own assault has evolved into a growing outrage as my dealings with the police and deputy district attorney have opened my eyes to the flawed way in which the criminal justice system approaches sexual assault crimes. I have experienced how sexual assault victims’ rights are routinely ignored and at times, their confidentiality is breached. Policies need to change surrounding how sexual assault cases are investigated, corroborated, and proven. Prosecutors are forced to routinely dismiss sexual assault cases, and not enough has been done within the policy and legal frameworks to address the unique measures that sexual assault crimes demand.
Our criminal justice system has not evolved to keep up with the ever-growing forms of sexual assault. As a result, the civil justice system is one of the few avenues for victims of sexual violence to pursue justice. I am grateful that many victims are capable of bringing civil suits against their perpetrators when the criminal justice system has failed to hold those responsible. That being said, the process of bringing a civil suit can be very painful and traumatizing for a victim and some decide that the chances of winning such a suit do not outweigh the emotional burden that testifying in a civil suit can be. While I personally decided not to move forward with a civil suit, I commend the many brave victims who have and who stop at nothing to hold their perpetrators accountable.
Following my assault, I joined a rape treatment group, which included women from diverse backgrounds, and what I learned through that group was shocking; although I felt I was being mistreated by the judicial system, the fellow women in the group recounted treatment by the legal system that was unconscionable. It horrified me enough to have to experience personally the lack of respect and justice that most victims have to endure, but the access to care, justice, and resources afforded these women was so different from mine that it jarred me completely. When one woman in the group shared that her detective had stopped returning her calls altogether, something I too had experienced, she accepted that her quest for justice was over. She was astounded when I showed her the log of the fifteen calls I had made just that week regarding my case, and how I had gone over my detective’s head to secure a meeting with the deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department in order to have my case reassigned to a new detective. I wanted her to know that she was entitled to respect and that she did not have to tolerate such shoddy treatment. The following week, this same woman recounted to our group that she had resumed her efforts to contact her detective, and even shown up at the police station to confront him in person. She turned to me and said, unforgettably, “I have always felt your passion, but now I hear your voice in my head.”
After I was sexually assaulted in 2016, the interest I had always had in women’s rights and issues could no longer take a back seat to the work I was pursuing in film. The immediate knowledge I gained – that justice is rarely achieved for most rape victims – made the interminably slow pace of reform within the film industry unbearable. I left my job at the beginning of 2017 as a creative executive and began volunteering at the Rape Treatment Center at UCLA Medical Center, working alongside the center’s attorney, reviewing polices and legislation governing sexual assault and victims’ rights. I can already see areas that are ripe for reform given consistent research and concerted effort. Just in my time with working at the Rape Treatment Center, I have conducted substantial research into the California Sexual Offender Registry procedures and the numerous ways that allow sex offenders to avoid being publicly listed in the state’s registry. Numerous other avenues for policy and legal changes exist, the effort just needs to be made to pursue them.
Following law school, I hope to work for an organization that works with victims, attorneys, legislators, and law enforcement to help craft and improve policies and legislation regarding sexual assault, such as RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) or the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. I want to devise policies and laws that do more to combat sexual violence. I have a voice I intend to use to shine a light on the shortcomings of a system that fails to take victims seriously.