• Give a Gift
  • Customer Service
  • Promotions
  • Videos
  • Blogs
  • Win
  • Games

Sexual Assault Survivors Speak Out Against Campus Rape

"This is the civil rights movement of our generation"

Share






*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the victims

Never before has the subject of sexual assault on college campuses been so much a part of the national dialogue. With 55 Colleges under Title IX investigation, the Obama administration's recently released 20-page report with tips on how to curb rape on campus, and students taking to the social media airwaves, finally, we might be making progress—in pulling back the veil on longstanding misconceptions regarding sexual assault and rape on college campuses, flaws in college judicial systems, and age-old victim blaming. As Marie Claire reported last fall, college women nationwide say they're being contradicted, discouraged and ignored when they come forward to report a sexual assault; obviously there is much that still needs to be done. Here, four women come forward to speak about their experiences in an effort to raise awareness and set the record straight. Their stories may surprise you.

 

"My friends were not supportive."

 

"I was raped the first weekend of college," says Emily* who was a freshman at a college in upstate New York in 2011. She was drinking in a college dorm room with a large group of freshman, and didn't have more than two drinks. “A large group of students were walking back to my dormitory around midnight, and he was one of them,” she says. “We went back to his dorm room, and the next thing I know everybody had left his room except him and the lights were off. I was really confused and started blacking out. Next thing I know all my clothes were off and he was forcing me to perform oral sex and later was inside of me. I can't say for sure I was drugged, but I know what I had was not a normal response to alcohol.” The next morning Emily experienced bleeding and told her friend what happened, and I asked her if she should go to the hospital. “She told me that it was probably no big deal and that I should stop thinking about it." Because of her friend's response, Emily didn't report the crime until 2013, and by then, there was little she could do. He was found not responsible. After the rape, Emily developed PTSD and an eating disorder. The rapist lived down the hall from her, so she transferred schools. "I wish I'd had support earlier. People think that if the situation didn't resemble an episode of 'SVU', then it didn't happen," she says.

Bringing in character witnesses, testimony about flirting, and questioning the victim's past sexual experience all work in support of the rapist, explains Caroline Heldman, PhD, politics chair at Occidental College. "There's peer pressure to fit in, and siding with rapists can be a way to get into the 'in' crowd," she says. Denial comes into play too, as in: "if I blame her, it can't happen to me." (Readers should note that the statistics remain unchanged: 1 in 5 women will be the victim of a rape or attempted rape, 80 percent of victims are under age 30, and two-thirds of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.)

Furthermore, with 97% of rapists going free in the judicial system, and 95 percent of attacks going unreported, perpetrators are able to hide in plain sight. Well-liked and charming, he's often the popular guy on campus. Maybe he holds a leadership position, or his parents give large sums of money to the institution. For this reason, explains Heldman, college administrators are often more concerned about rapists than survivors. According to research by Dr. David Lisak of the University of Massachusetts, who has done extensive studies regarding the motives and behaviors of acquaintance rapists, most rapes are committed by serial offenders who rape six victims on average. "They are crafty as hell," explains Heldman, who has heard hundreds of stories of how serial rapists rape from survivors across the country. "I've worked on many federal complaints, and the patterns are stark," she says. "If you aren't an easy target already, they will make you an easy target. They'll cozy up to you. They'll make their move when you're incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. Or they will drug you."

 

"My school encouraged me to leave."

 

During the rape hearing for Angela* at a school in Missouri, "the student jury asked all kinds of questions. The topics ranged from whether I was a virgin to why I didn’t scream to how much I had had to drink. I felt demeaned, like I was the one being accused. They ruled that because I had invited him back [to my room] it must not have been sexual misconduct. They said I should be more careful next time. Later, a friend who knew the judge told me I would never have won anyway. The university wouldn't want to admit that that happened on its campus. It would look bad on their record. So I transferred to a different college the next fall."

Melissa Bicheler was raped during a college internship program in Puerto Rico during the second semester of her freshman year, by someone she’d met at a bus stop. “I didn’t know where to go, or what to do. Police whistled at me on my way to work, so I didn’t feel comfortable approaching them. So I called the nurse at school and asked her what I should do, and she just said, ‘I don’t know.’ I felt ignored," she says. Later, when Bicheler returned to her small liberal arts college in Ohio the next semester, she began to develop PTSD symptoms, and met with a school counselor. "She suggested I leave the school. Her solution was "if you can't handle it, just drop out."

It's not uncommon for survivors to experience secondary victimization; a term Rebecca Campbell, PhD, of Michigan State University refers to as "the second rape." Campbell's research suggests that the trauma of rape of rape extends far beyond the assault itself, as negative community responses (college counselors, health professionals, law enforcement, college hearings; lack of peer support) can significantly elevate distress. This is consistent with the women we spoke with for this article; nearly all reported symptoms of PTSD, depression, anorexia and other disorders. According to findings reported by the AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund, eighty percent of rape victims suffer chronic physical or psychological problems over time, and rape survivors are 13 times more likely to attempt suicide than are people who have not been victims of a crime.

 

 "I was sexually assaulted by a woman."

 

One of the issues that often goes underreported is the impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities on campus. According to a 2011 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs study, LGBT people are three times more likely to experience sexual violence and harassment. Hannah* was sexually assaulted by a female peer in her graduate degree program at a university in eastern Illinois. “We were at a bar, and she came up to me and pulled up my shirt and skirt. People could see my butt and underwear. I kept telling her to go away, and said ‘stop doing this. Stop touching me!’ Then she came back and stuck her fingers up my skirt, inside of me. I was stunned. I screamed out her,” she says. When Hannah later told her friends about the incident, many of them, shockingly, expressed concern for the perpetrator’s safety. “They said, ‘oh that’s weird,’ or ‘I hope she’s okay.’ Hannah was sexually assaulted again in 2013 by a male colleague in school's library elevator. “He pinned me against the wall and I put my hand against his throat until I could run” – a crime she did report – but she never came forward regarding the female classmate. "I think there is this idea that because I'm openly bisexual or queer, people can behave in obviously inappropriate ways,” she says. "This was someone who was close to me, whom I considered a friend. Therefore I thought: I can't report this. I won't be taken seriously. It doesn't fit script for what we know as assault." Later, when Hannah described the incident to a therapist, “I even said to her: I’m not sure I’d call it assault,” but then [the therapist] pulled up the definition and said to me, ‘yes, this was an assault.’ That was very affirming for me.”

 

 

"A bathroom sticker isn't enough. Schools need to be educated on what sexual assault actually is."

 

Many colleges and universities make rape awareness as part of their orientation programs for first year students, but sadly, many do not. "It's the college's responsibility," says Emily. "Students need to be educated on what sexual assault is, and how to recognize it if it happens to them or if a friend explains it to them." Confusion regarding sexual crimes – including how drugs and/or alcohol come into play, terms like "regret sex," and allegations of false rape claims (which are very rare) muddle conversations and efforts toward awareness on campus. But the truth is, "there isn't any ambiguity," says Professor Rebecca Campbell of Michigan State University. "The legal statutes are very clear on this. If the victim does not give consent, or is unable to give consent, most states will classify that as rape." And any non-consensual sexual touching, groping, fondling, or forced kissing is considered sexual assault.

“I don’t remember being taught about consent,” says Hannah. “I grew up with a very narrow definition of rape and what it looks like. In high school, I had awful experiences where the guy gets you drunk and almost has sex with you, and I never thought of them as assault. But I did feel guilty and bad about myself. I was just as narrow-minded and victim blaming as anyone else. We’re taught to ask: What was she wearing? How much did she drink? Who was she with? All these questions are designed to suss out that it was her fault, brought on herself. ”

 

"If you say nothing and do nothing, you are complicit in a culture that allows this to be an epidemic."

 

The Obama administration has called out bystander programs and getting men involved as part of the solution, and experts agree. "We need to be aware that we are all accountable, especially on college campuses, says Catherine Caroll, Title IX Compliance Officer for the University of Maryland and longtime public policy advocate and attorney working to end violence against women and girls. "This isn't a women's issue. It's a societal issue." Bystander programs like the Girl Code Movement, started by Julie Gelb, Caroline Heres and Jackie Reilly, all rising juniors at Syracuse University, include intervention tips as part of their "Cock Block Crew," designed to empower college students to stop rape from happening. Intervention can be as simple sticking with your friends, or asking an acquaintance, "do you want to go to bathroom with me?'" if she looks like she might be in trouble, advises Gelb, one of the co-founders. "Have your phone charged and on you. Have a meeting place. Use code words," she says.

Holding institutions responsible is another key component in rape prevention and getting students the justice they deserve. For years, too many colleges and universities have been turning a blind eye. "As far as I'm concerned, they're all guilty," says Carroll. "[Institutions] generally only look at this as a liability issue. What they need to be focused on is creating and maintaining a safe and equitable learning environment."

 

“The more voices we put to these encounters, the more attention will be paid in preventing them from happening in the future.”

 

The survivors we spoke to indicated that speaking out and creating or engaging in support communities was the most important factor in their recovery process. Emily started a survivor empowerment group at the university where she now attends, working on a new orientation program that will inform students of their policy rights. Hannah is actively involved in advocacy for LGBT rights, and Melissa ended up doing a short documentary on how the school dealt with sexual violence for her senior video final project. She's also taken her advocacy to a new level with her blog, whattodowhenraped.blogspot.com, and is working on an upcoming e-guide, entitled, You're Not Alone: An E-Guide to the Aftermath of Sexual Assault

Indeed, the women we interviewed all shared an overall message of hope and transformation. Says Emily, "You do not have to be a victim. Once you recognize that it was not your fault (because it wasn't), you transform into a survivor and a warrior, and anything is possible. I want people to know that I've been able to move on, so they know they can too. I have fought my eating disorder. I have fought my PTSD. I no longer take medication and am able to have healthy sexual relationships with men. Healing is possible."

Erasing the stigmas and misconceptions around rape and sexual assault requires not just a revamping of the way institutions handle the issue, but also educating the general public. "This is the civil rights movement of my generation," says Emily. "The fact that we're talking about it will help, and people's perception of rape is getting changed. Furthermore, she adds, "We can't fix this issue unless we work with schools. Students and administrators need to bridge this together."

 

Related:
Big Shame on Campus: Colleges Are Ignoring Sexual Assault Victims
President Obama Is Getting Serious About Campus Rape
White House to Colleges: Here's How to Curb Campus Rape

 

 

Photo Credit: Getty Images/E+


Share
This Is A Developing Story

post a comment

Connect with Marie Claire:
Advertisement
horoscopes
daily giveaway
One (1) winner will receive a year’s supply of makeup products from Smashbox (ARV: $314) and a year’s supply of hair products from Herbal Essences (ARV: $104), as selected by the Sponsor.

One (1) winner will receive a year’s supply of makeup products from Smashbox (ARV: $314) and a year’s supply of hair products from Herbal Essences (ARV: $104), as selected by the Sponsor.

enter now
You Know You Want More
Special Offer
Link Your Marie Claire Account to Facebook
Welcome!

Marie Claire already has an account with this email address. Link your account to use Facebook to sign in to Marie Claire. To insure we protect your account, please fill in your password below.

Forgot Password?

Thanks for Joining

Your information has been saved and an account has been created for you giving you full access to everything marieclaire.com and Hearst Digital Media Network have to offer. To change your username and/or password or complete your profile, click here.

Continue
Your accounts are now linked

You now have full access to everything Marie Claire and Hearst Digital Media Network have to offer. To change your settings or profile, click here.

Continue