Sexual Assault: You’re not safe even when you think you are by R.M.

You wake up in your dorm room, not remembering how you got back into bed. You look down at your appearance and notice your dress hiked up to your hips, and see your underwear in the middle of your dorm, ripped. You try and get out of bed and feel soreness below your abdomen as well as on your hips. You stand up and notice the blood on your sheets, but you look at them with a puzzled expression; you got your period over a week ago. You don’t know what is going on and walk towards your dresser where you see your own reflection. Your hair is disheveled, your makeup resembles a raccoon, yet you still appear normal.

You’re not.

Your roommate knocks on your door and ask if you remember anything; you only remember bits and pieces. She tells you that He carried you back to your room again because you were just so out of it last night. You know what happened but you’re being in denial about it. You muster up the rest of your dignity and barely whisper, “I was raped.” Your roommate stares at you for what seems to be an eternity. Her only response is, “Yeah, right..then why did you let him take you to your room then…again?”

But that’s the thing. You don’t know.

The only thing you do know, though, is that if your roommate doesn’t even believe you,

then who will?

*

Kacey Pomeroy* was just within her first months of her freshman year at the University of Denver when she was sexually assaulted. “He was a close friend who lived close to me,” she stated, “but it happened on many occasions. And it just kept worsening in severity.” When the assaults occurred, both parties were intoxicated. However, that didn’t factor in as much when Pomeroy reported the acts due to the fact that the assailant provided the alcohol. A drug-facilitated assault consists of the use of drugs and/or alcohol to perform the assault. When these substances come into play with the assault, it creates a blurry line due to the reliability of the victim’s claims. According to Pomeroy, in her situation, her friend described her rape as a “gray area” only because of the substances used by the assailant. “My friend told me that he [my attacker] was cross-faded so he didn’t know what he was doing.” To Pomeroy, she thought that “for some reason, it did not seem to matter that this was something that had happened on multiple occasions, or that I was incapacitated to the point that my attacker literally had to support me so that I was able to walk.” This created a blurry line to see who was more believable. Although Pomeroy’s case went through, the involvement of mainly alcohol made the process more difficult because the assailant did not tell his side. Pomeroy was repeatedly questioned if she was “drunk enough”.

Pomeroy’s own attorney in her civil rights protection case consistently told Pomeroy that she did not believe her. “Open door, open invitation… I can see where he was coming from… To be honest, I don’t think he raped you.” Pomeroy said that she tried not to say anything; and despite the fact that she had friends that believed her, the lack of faith her attorney had in Pomeroy in denial of what happened which made it more difficult for her to accept it as an assault.

Title IX is a Federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. This includes sexual harassment or violence, as well as sexual assault, battery, and coercion in any educational program or activity that receives federal funding. Most schools, private institutions, and grades K-12 fall under Title IX. Reports can be made anonymously and have options explained, including receiving a no-contact order or going through the Title IX investigation process. At any time, survivors of the assaults can change their mind and decide to go through and investigation or have a no-contact order instated, etc.

According to Pomeroy, a no-contact order was produced which as Pomeroy described, relates to a restraining order but not as harsh. Those that are filed against it must stay a certain amount of feet away and is forbidden to contact the other party. It is, however, only effective on campus, and to her dismay, Pomeroy does not know what will happen when the order expires.

*

Guilt: a feeling of responsibility or repentance from a crime or a form of wrongdoing.

You would not like to spend your freshman year of college talking to law enforcement and hiding in your room instead of being a normal student. You will have no motivation for accusing someone that you had once called your friend and considered family. You know that people will said you are lying, and you know that rumors have already gone around, but you won’t feel like listening. Part of what is harmful about victim blaming is that survivors already feel guilty. You will feel beyond guilty, and you will probably cry more for your attacker than you will for yourself.

*

According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) 1 out of every 6 American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. As far as the male gender, a stigma surrounds the rape culture among males. There is this common misconception that males cannot be raped by females, but that’s wrong. RAINN’s statistics state that males ages 18-24 are five times more likely than those that are non-students of the same age to be a victim of rape or sexual assault. Just because a male has an erection does not mean he wants to have sex. This is also a common misconception with females: just because a female has an orgasm does not mean she wanted it. There are misrepresentations on rape where pronouns are generally centered around “she/her” for the victim, and “he/him” for the attacker. Yes, there are more assaults involving male-female violence, but we underestimate the number of males that are assaulted.

We have a culture of toxic masculinity which makes it hard for men to admit their vulnerabilities. Men are supposed to want sex and if they don’t, then they are seen as less of a man. Changing this culture gives a chance for men to feel more comfortable admitting that they were assaulted. Victims blame themselves for the assault most of the time. Kacey Pomeroy blames herself, and she knows her friends that are survivors blame themselves.

“I tried to write down what happened. I wrote journal entries. I wrote a letter to my lawyer, to the friends who abandoned me, to my attacker’s roommate. Not all of these were negative letters. Half of them were apologies, but it took me a while to realize that I should not apologize, so I didn’t send any of these.” – Kacey Pomeroy

For those that have never experienced sexual assault, speak out. Your silence won’t keep it from happening to you. Not only that, but teaching children personal boundaries, respect, and what consent is will empower children and respect their own decision of saying, “No.” Consent needs to be taught in terms of sharing toys and pulling hair early in life. Children need to know that yes means yes, and that their bodies belong to them.

Other resources that can help, also, are End Rape on Campus, Know Your IX, and any other victim resources in your area.

*

The emotional effects that sexual assault causes vary within each victim. A cycle of guilt, anger, and sadness may take place. Dissociation will occur, and Your isolation will be Your own depression’s new best friend. Anxiety attacks may occur after what happened, and after a while, Your body will succumb to the numbness.  

But remember:

You are not alone. You may not control what others say or think, but You can decide not to allow their words to affect You.

Potential Solution to the Sexual Assault Crisis on College Campuses by KRM

Despite its cold and snowy winters, Missoula, Montana may seem like your average college town. But, this seemingly normal place has a major issue. Rape and sexual harassment is a huge problem in our society, especially at Missoula’s University of Montana.  What may be just as troubling as how common these crimes are on this campus, is how often victims are treated unfairly when they report to the police, or take the case to court. As described by Jon Krakauer in his book, Missoula, victims are often disrespected, and perpetrators get away with the crime way too often. At the University of Montana and too many other places, properly handled rape and sexual harassment cases are few and far between.

The system is broken, and it needs to be fixed. Victims of rape and sexual harassment are suffering. They have just experienced significant physical and psychological harm. Justice systems around the country rarely do anything to help. Thankfully, this can be fixed. We have great models of how to handle this issue on campuses.

My aunt, Col. Elena Oberg worked at the United States Air Force Academy from 2010 to 2012. With her experience and knowledge of how the Air Force handles sexual harassment and assault cases, she believes, “universities would be wise to implement a system similar to the Air Force.”

According to RAINN, the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 23.1% of undergraduate females experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. Considering how many women are undergraduates at universities, that is a huge number. The Air Force Academy is not immune to this. They too occasionally have issues among their cadets. But, what’s different is how they handle those issues.

“In approximately 2005/2006,” Oberg explained, “the Air Force established a team at every base made up of a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and Victim Advocates who supported sexual assault victims, provided counseling, helped victims navigate any needed medical care and supported them through any investigation and subsequent legal action. They also educated commanders and senior enlisted personnel on how they could support and care for sexual assault victims.”

This alone is so much more than the University of Montana provided for any of the victims described by Krakauer. There were never any advocates to support these people through the process. They were completely alone, and because of this the prosecution process often was almost as traumatizing as the original event.

According to RAINN, only 20% of female student victims, aged 18-24, report to law enforcement. This is because most sexual violence crimes are committed by acquaintances to the victim. Despite being very damaged by the crime, the victim may not want to report because of the implications for their friend. They may feel like they somehow caused what happened. Maybe it was their fault for getting drunk. Or, they had originally planned on having sex but then changed their mind, and didn’t clearly enough withdrawal consent. It is very common for the victim to feel guilty for what happened.

Oberg explained to me that the Air Force Academy has a solution to this. Cadets have two different options of how to report. The first is called a restricted report. If a victim opted to make this type of report, “they received counselling and medical care. However, no investigative organization was notified, so no investigation is done.” This is an optimal solution for a victim who wants to maximize privacy, or doesn’t want to send their acquaintance to prison. They still receive the psychological care that they need. The victims in Missoula never received any type of counselling, and they suffered for a long time.

This is not the type of report that is right for all victims. The Air Force Academy has a second type of report for these cadets, called an Unrestricted Report. Oberg explained, “In this case, the victim still receives support and care, but the assault is also fully investigated by the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) which conducts all Air Force investigations into serious crimes.”

With this type of report, more people are made aware of the situation. From Oberg’s experience at the Air Force Academy, “Investigators, prosecutors and the entire command chain were generally very supportive of victims.” She added, “We wanted victims to report any experience they had with sexual assault. In my opinion, we took every allegation seriously and made sure complete investigations were conducted.”

If the case was taken to court, something called an Article 32 hearing was conducted. In this hearing, “Victims don’t have to testify,” Oberg explained. These victims were also “assigned their own legal council (called a Special Victim’s Counsel) to help them navigate the investigation and legal proceedings.” This is an example of how investigations should be conducted. The subject was always innocent until proven guilty, but the often emotionally-unstable victim had the support they needed through the entire process.

The Air Force Academy took further steps to support victims. “Often, a victim can have strong physical and emotional reactions to being assaulted and need some sort of accommodations.” Oberg explained that, “Commanders would work with the victim to adjust their schedule to minimize the chance that they would come in contact with the subject.” There were some examples from Krakauer’s book of victims having traumatizing experiences when coming in contact with the subject after the assault. This solution minimizes the possibility of this occurring.

Unfortunately, rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment will never disappear from our society. No matter how much we teach our kids, bad things will occasionally happen. But, what we can change is how these situations are handled. Victims need support. There are great models of how to provide them with this, such as at the Air Force Academy. Places like Missoula need to find a way to implement a similar process in order to properly handle these cases.

The Justice System we Face with Rape and Sexual Assault by Alex Guthrie

I came home at ten o’clock on a random Saturday night only to get a phone call from my toughest friend. She was in tears saying she needed to see me. There was something very unsettling about hearing and seeing the bravest person I know so shaken up. I told her I would meet her at a coffee shop so she could talk to someone. When I arrived at the coffee shop, I had never seen her so upset before. She explained to me that an older guy she had dated when she was 14 had assaulted her when they were together, but had left town when he graduated high school. The man had basically kidnapped her at one point by telling her they were going on a camping trip together. She described to me how she felt in the relationship and said, “I was scared, but I was only a kid, you know? An older guy liked me, and I liked him so I just let it happen.” Of course my first thought was, “What triggered her and brought this back up now?” But my question was immediately answered when she said that he was back in town and had sent her an email saying that they should get together. She told me that he knew where she lived and how to get in her house, and she was terrified that he would show up somewhere or find her.

Rape and sexual assault are major issues, and although it may seem as if they are always treated as big issues, society does not always view these crimes as seriously as they should be. For whatever reason it may be – whether it be drugs, alcohol, mental illness, etc. – rape is a very hard crime to prosecute a person for. Women are raped all the time, yet the men that commit the crime do not always realize what it is that they are doing wrong or realize that they really did not get consent. A victim can take the crime to the police and try to give them evidence, but because women have lied about being raped and men often lie about the intentions they had, it is a hard crime to prove and provide evidence for. Many times, a woman, man, or sometimes both, are completely intoxicated and are unable to give or withdraw sexual consent. Sometimes rape or sexual assault can be due to a mental illness a person has, but often it is just someone doing something bad or, in some cases, being selfish and not thinking about the other person. The fact that there are so many different ways a man could try to “justify” it also contributes to the struggle when it comes to prosecuting a person for sexual assault or rape. But why is this crime not always taken as seriously as it should be?

When I asked my friend about what she wanted to do about it, or if she wanted to report it, she said, “I can’t report it. I have no evidence. I have cuts on my knees from him abusing me but they look like shaving cuts. And he’s the one that put that in my head so that I couldn’t report it.” This is why it is such a hard crime to prosecute someone for. When a girl goes to the police and says, “This person raped me,” they can’t just immediately lock the guy up. They have to go through an interview process and listen to the guy as well as the girl and find witnesses. If a girl needs help and reports it immediately, they also have to go through the rape kit exam in order to find more evidence of injuries, DNA, and other any other proof. If there are no witnesses or other victims from the same man, it is hard to tell whether he actually committed the crime or not. My friend said she couldn’t report it because she had no evidence, but then it becomes a constant battle in any victim’s mind of, “What if he did this to someone else? It’s my fault that it happened to another person because I didn’t report them.” Almost every victim has this thought, and it is almost impossible sometimes to get it out of their heads.

Although every rape or sexual assault crime committed is serious, any child or minor rape is the crime taken to the extreme. It is so much more traumatizing as a child, especially when you may not know what is happening. When you are an adult or young adult, you know what is happening, which can be just as scary, but as a child, you are traumatized for life. A child has their entire life ahead of them, but an experience like this can change how you grow up and how you live your life. The one thing that is very different from being child victim versus being an adult victim is as an adult it is so much easier to lie about it or be in a place or situation where it is easier for the man sexually assault you. Children don’t go to parties, drink or do drugs, so when it comes to the difficulty of figuring out how to prosecute a person, it is much easier to know that a child is most likely not lying, wasn’t drinking and put themselves in the dangerous situation.

My mother was also raped when she was just a child at 11 years old. She was even younger than my friend, and it was more difficult to report because she did not know the person. She said he was wearing a beanie hat when it happened, so she couldn’t see his face well. When she reported it, she had to go in and try to pick the man out of a line behind one way glass. “It was so scary, you know, being an eleven year old girl,” she said. She told me that another girl also reported a man for raping her later on and had given the description of the man having something all over his legs. My mom said that that was the one thing she remembered, was him having something on his legs. They had my mom sit in the courtroom during the trial and she told me, “It was one of the scariest experiences, being in a room with the person who could possibly have been the man who raped me.”

I, along with many family members (especially my dad and brother because they are males), can never truly understand the feelings that she gets or the small issues that bother her due to this experience. I often notice certain issues that bother her or possibly bring up memories of the experience, including gender inequality issues or problems with women being treated with disrespect. Although she has dealt with it very well, the election with Donald Trump has brought up some bad emotions. In a recent post she made on Facebook, she wrote, “You said to me that it is fine to speak about and possibly act on sexually assaulting women. I am a victim of sexual assault and cried alone the day I heard those word come out of Trump’s mouth. He brought me back to a deep dark place that only other women who have experienced this can completely understand.” No matter how old a sexual assault victim is, it stays with them their entire lives. There are ways they can receive help to lessen the pain or the thoughts they have, but once it happens, there is no way to undo it and those feelings and emotions will stay throughout their entire lives.

Child sexual assault is not the only big issue though. Rape and sexual assault are extremely common on college campuses. In college, there are many parties and hangouts. People show up thinking that everything will be fine, but if they are not smart about it, especially girls, it is very easy for them to find themselves in a dangerous situation or being sexually assaulted. Although rape on college campuses happens elsewhere besides parties, the main stories you hear from victims started at parties with drinking or drugs. The book Missoula by Jon Krakauer mainly focuses on stories of people who thought it would be fine to stay at a friends house or go home with a guy because they were drunk, but then it ends up being a never-ending sexual assault case. In almost every story, both the woman and the man are intoxicated, and sometimes the woman is even unconscious from drinking too much. When this happens and the woman gets sexually assaulted, it is very hard to determine whether the man truly did not know what was going on because he was too drunk, or whether he is lying about the entire situation as a whole. Although it should not matter what the guy says, if a girl was intoxicated, she was not able to give consent at all and it should be considered rape. But for some reason, if both the attacker and the victim were drunk, the court drops and ignores many sexual assault cases because there is no proof that it was actually rape. There is also the factor of how many drinks is considered “drunk” or “intoxicated”. How could they ever know if it was a crime when a woman says it was rape, but the man says that there was obvious consent? What if a girl only had one drink and said she got raped, but the guy says she was completely drunk? Just because there is no proof though, does not mean that the case should just be dropped completely.

Once a case is dropped, if a man is found innocent of the crime, very rarely will they never do it again. Missoula includes a study done with a sample of 1,882 male students from the University of Massachusetts Boston and found that 6.4% of them are rapists. That came out to about 120 males, but it turns out that 63% of those males were repeat offenders, meaning they have raped or committed sexual assault more than once. These men had raped at least 439 people which is an average of 6 victims per rapist. This is what makes the original victim feel uncomfortable when the attacker is not found guilty – the person is still loose and could potentially hurt more people.

If a man is guilty, but they are found innocent of a crime they actually did commit, it is so easy for them to find another person to hurt. This leads to self-blame, one of the biggest issues victims face when they are raped. Self-blame becomes a factor in the uncomfort when a man is found innocent. If a man is freed, the victims feel like it is there fault if another person is raped or sexually assaulted because they either did not provide enough evidence or they did not fight hard enough to stop it and prosecute the man. Only a person who has been raped can truly understand that feeling, which may be why the court does not prosecute the crime. Many people involved with the courts, including the prosecutors, probably have never experienced being sexually assaulted, so it is harder to sympathize with a victim or believe what they are saying. With so many good liars in the world, a “victim” can also easily make it up and try to accuse a man who is innocent, therefore the court has a hard time believing only one person with no evidence that it actually happened.

Many times it is sadness that victims feel, but they can feel so many other emotions, especially when issues are brought up. My mother’s post, mentioned earlier, also said, “Anger and frustration overtook me on a scale unimaginable to those of you who have never and will never have to be victim to a man just ‘taking what he wants’.” Once again, anyone who has never experienced sexual assault will never understand the feelings and the pain that victims go through. Even though we cannot understand it, we can still be there for victims and help them. Just listening and providing a victim with someone to talk to helps dramatically.

It is controversial as to whether it is possible to lower the number of sexual assaults there are, but there are still ways to help the victims and prevent it from happening to those around you. Keeping yourself safe and letting others know how to be safe can make it so that you are never in a dangerous situation. For example, never walk alone, especially at night, or make sure you have a loyal and reliable friend that will stay with you at a party. To help a victim, all we can really do is be there to provide a listener or a shoulder to cry on when they need it, and try to point them in the right direction for professional help if they seem like they need it. Do not overlook an issue like this. Do something to help and prevent it.