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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Student launches petition urging stricter sexual assault penalties

Updated: May 2, 2020 at 11:28 p.m.

A sophomore launched a petition Tuesday urging officials to implement stricter penalties for students found guilty of sexual assault.

Abby Canning, the petition’s author, is calling on GW to suspend assailants until survivors graduate and to levy higher penalties for “aggravated circumstances” or repeat offenders, citing the University’s handling of her own case as evidence of a pattern of lax penalties against assailants. According to documentation of a Title IX investigation obtained by The Hatchet, Canning’s assailant, Bilal Bongo, received a one-semester suspension for sexually assaulting her in January 2019.“This is only one example of GW’s pattern of using disproportionate sanctions against sexual assailants,” she said in the petition.

The petition garnered nearly 600 signatures as of Thursday evening. Canning also pointed to a 2017 petition, which was started by an alumna and sexual assault survivor who urged officials to expel her assailant after he received a less severe sanction than what the Student Code of Conduct recommends, as an example of “GW’s trend of refusing harsher penalties against assailants.”

Canning said in an interview that officials notified her of the sanction her assailant received in early April and said she opened an appeal a few days later asking for a stricter punishment. She said the appeal was ultimately denied.

Officials found Bongo was “more likely than not” responsible for the assault based on a “preponderance of the evidence,” according to the Title IX investigation report. The investigation concluded in February, according to the document.

Canning said she launched the petition to show officials how “minimal” sanctions for sexual assault makes survivors feel they are treated with a “lack of justice.”

“As I’ve talked to other people, I’ve realized that I’m not the only one feeling this and that it’s been a pattern that GW has continued to do, and somebody needs to address it,” Canning said. “And I thought maybe I could get the ball rolling.”

Canning addressed the petition to University President Thomas LeBlanc and GW, but she said she will send the petition to the administrator who decided the sanction for the case and any officials with “administrative authority” as it gains more traction. Canning said she does not know the official who decided on the sanction.

“I feel like by at least putting it on the radar of everyone that maybe Thomas LeBlanc and other disciplinary bodies will see this and will consider changing its policy to make that the minimum sanction,” Canning said.

Bongo said he was “wrongly” convicted of the assault and said his encounter with Canning was a “genuine hookup” that he stopped when she expressed discomfort. He said “it was never my intention” to make her feel she had been “harassed.”

“It is very hard for me to envision the idea that people think of me that way,” Bongo said in an email.

University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said GW takes reports of sexual harassment “seriously” and declined to disclose details about the matter due to “privacy concerns.”

“The safety and well-being of our community is our top priority,” Nosal said in an email. “We strive to provide each person who comes forward with a thorough and fair investigation.”

Editors note: The Hatchet decided to name the assailant in this story based on documentation from the investigation finding him guilty of assault. We encourage you to contact [email protected] if you have questions or feedback about the reporting of this story. 

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