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A Frank Look at Sexual Assault on a College Campus

12 Mar

I never thought it would be hard to say no. In my head, I imagined a stranger approaching me at a party; he would ask if I wanted to have sex with him, and if I didn’t, I’d decline, and that would be that. But in my experience, that’s not how it usually goes. I never thought that in my experience it wouldn’t be a stranger, but a friend or a boyfriend. I never thought that after I said no once, or even twice, they would keep asking. I didn’t take into account how my usual resolve might be weakened by alcohol, or the pressure of being alone with him. And I never thought that my answer and what I wanted would be so thoroughly disregarded.

The exact details of what happened do not matter. All you need to know is this: I was drunk and he might have been too. I wanted to say no, and I repeatedly tried with oblique excuses such as “Don’t you have a girlfriend?” and “I just want to be friends.” But he pushed and kept asking until, exasperated and inebriated after ten minutes of arguing, I finally said yes. And things went way further than I ever would have intended.

The next morning and in the weeks that followed, I struggled to find the words to categorize what happened. Terms like rape or sexual assault sounded too strong; after all, I reasoned, aren’t those words reserved for victims who are violently attacked or drugged and taken advantage of? And he had been drinking too, though how much I couldn’t recall. But to say what happened was consensual seemed wrong as well. He may not have forcefully taken advantage of me, but I thought he was a friend I could trust, and he certainly took advantage of a situation in which I was vulnerable. To this day, when I think about him, my blood drains and my stomach churns in a nauseous sensation that I’ve never quite experienced from anything else. I quit the one organization that we were both in together, and avert my gaze out of anger, fear and shame when I see him around campus.

However, what was far more painful than the aforementioned incident was the unsupportive and verbally abusive reaction I received a few months later after reconciling with an old boyfriend. When he asked me if I had been with anyone else in the time we were broken up, I reluctantly admitted yes, once, but that I’d rather not talk about what happened. Still, he continually brought up the incident, demanding to hear about it, and each time I begged him to stop. One night, he came over with a bottle of Everclear and urged me to drink. I declined. I was firm and clear. But he didn’t care about what I wanted and kept asking, each time more forcefully. He wouldn’t accept no, no matter how many times I said it, and I thought I loved and trusted him, so I felt I had no choice but to give in. When I was good and drunk, he forced me to tell him everything. Once I finished he stormed out of the room, leaving me to cry alone. Later, in a series of manic text messages, he told me that the other guy “must have really given it to me” because “I didn’t feel as tight as I used to” and that he thought I “wasn’t the type of girl to get taken advantage of.” I read the texts over and over, and for a while I truly hated myself. I shortly thereafter broke up with him.

I do not intend for this article to come across as a sob story, nor do I mean for it to sound vindictive. Neither of those things are this article’s purpose. We publish a lot of fun, silly stuff on this site, but when the need arises, Sherman Ave also presents the opportunity to transform itself into a platform. When I eventually told my female friends at home and school about both these incidents, I was horrified by the most common response I received: “I can relate.” I have since heard story after story from my friends about sexual assault. Some ask if I think what happened to them is rape, and I usually feel unable to answer. Many finish their stories with a helpless shrug and dismiss these instances as an inevitable part of the college culture, since so many others seem to dismiss their stories as well. And I’ve wondered, how do we tolerate this? Something has to change.

Rape is serious. I know it, you know it, and I imagine most of the students on this campus would never dream of soberly attacking and forcing themselves upon another student. Compared to the sort of violent rapes that we are accustomed to seeing on programs such as CSI or in the news, the incidents of sexual assault that occur most commonly on campus are murky and mild (if mild is even an appropriate word to use); but that does not mean they are harmless or unimportant. These incidents that hazily occur among peers in the presence of alcohol often exist in a strange moral gray area in which figuring out where to assign blame can be difficult. But I do not want to talk about where to point fingers for something that already happened. That is not this article’s focus. I want to figure out how we can prevent situations such as these from occurring in the first place.

So. How do we solve this? What’s the call to action? Honestly, I’m not sure. I think it’s important to start an honest and open dialogue about sexual assault as a place to start, which I highly encourage, but that’s not what I’m going to ask of you here. Instead, I’m going to ask that you reflect internally. I shared my story with you for a reason; I shared my voice, my experiences, and my pain in the hopes that you could empathize with me. I hope that you read my words and understood that I, like you, am a person. I got hurt by the selfish and careless actions of people I thought I could trust, and it sucks.

Here’s a tip: You should not have to spend ten minutes trying to convince a woman* to sleep with you. And you should not need to use alcohol in order for her to “consent” to something she ordinarily wouldn’t do. But for a second, let’s say you do these things. She’s drunk and you’re desperate, and after ten minutes of no’s, you finally get her to say yes. And odds are if you went through with these actions, you would not face serious legal repercussions. You would probably not get in trouble from the University, and almost certainly not from the police. I do not say these things to dismiss or encourage this behavior, but merely to be realistic and upfront about the consequences. I am not trying to discourage sexual assault using scare tactics, but by appealing to your basest sense of human decency. You would probably get away with these actions, but make no mistake about the situation: A yes and a forced yes are by no means the same thing; she said yes not because she wanted to, but because you gave her no choice. And odds are, you probably really hurt this person.

So please, I am asking begging you to be more considerate of your peers. Perhaps I’ve made the burden of responsibility too one-sided, but it’s a lot harder to keep saying no than to keep pressuring for a yes. If you find yourself in a position of power over another person, do not abuse it. Seriously consider what I have shared with you in the course of the last thousand or so words. I could be anyone. I could be someone you care about. I could be you. Please do not hurt me.

Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696

Rape and Sexual Assault: 1-800-656-4673

Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-847-831-3438

Evanston Hospital: 847-570-2000

Northwestern CAPS: 847-491-2151

*Or man. Sexual assault can happen to or be perpetrated by anyone, regardless of gender.

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25 Responses to “A Frank Look at Sexual Assault on a College Campus”

  1. Emily Webster March 12, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    Thank you..

  2. Concerned adult March 12, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

    “So. How do we solve this? What’s the call to action? Honestly, I’m not sure.” It’s not rocket science. Stop drinking — stop binge drinking, stop casually drinking, just stop drinking. Most of these cases happen under the influence of alcohol. That is the place to start.

    • Mallory Busch March 12, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

      Dear Concerned adult,

      It is time to inform you that you have fallen into the category of “victim blamers.” Please reconsider your approach to the topic. I am upset that you would immediately state that alcohol is the problem, and not the people who commit such acts or the societal atmosphere that lets them go unaddressed.

      If you didn’t mean your comment to be interpreted as victim blaming, I’d be interested in hearing a broader explanation. Otherwise, I ask that you please do what this article addresses, and open yourself to an honest conversation about sexual assault and rape culture in America.

      You seem to be perpetuating it.

      Mallory Busch.

      • Welll March 13, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

        Read again: this person is not necessarily “victim blaming,” as you put it. They claimed that “most of these cases happen under the influence of alcohol” – which is true for both the “victim” and the “assailant.”

        Look, “victim blaming” exists; there are people who truly believe that it is the “fault” of the one who was assaulted for actions that they took. But not every time someone criticizes the victim for some of their actions are they “blaming” the victim or perpetuating “rape culture.”

        If a person wearing the wrong color bandana in the wrong neighborhood is shot, it is not their “fault” that they were shot; it is the fault of the person who shot them. But that does not mean they are above criticism for carelessly placing themselves in harms way, knowingly or otherwise. The same can be said in incidents like the ones described above.

        It is absolutely not the victims “fault.” They are not the ones to be “blamed.” The aggressor is and always is the one to be blamed, and we should do all we can to discourage this behavior and prevent these incidents from happening. But we don’t live an idealistic world. Some people are “bad” or have “animalistic impulses” or however you want to phrase it. Acknowledge that these people and these situations exist and do everything within your power to avoid these situations.

        Finally, to end my knowingly diatribe, to associate sexual “assault” to the types of incidents outlined above is to weaken the word (maybe it needs a new definition, I don’t know). I am not denying the legitimacy of the claim, nor defending the actions of someone who is sexually coercive. What I am saying, however, is that there was nothing stopping this woman from walking out the door. It is horrible that she purportedly felt the need to succumb to their wishes, to act in a way that goes against her initial intentions – but it should not be placed in the same category as sexual “assault.”

        That is akin to someone saying they were “assaulted” into smoking weed because all of their friends kept pressuring them to do it. Being convinced to do something you don’t want to do, but not being “forced” to do it is not assault. I’m sorry, it’s not.

    • Atikah March 13, 2014 at 6:29 am #

      It’s not rocket science – stop forcing or manipulating people to have sex with you.

      • Arielle Z. March 13, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

        The more emphasis you place on the victim’s behavior (attire, level of intoxication, etc), label the perpetrators as crazy people with “animalistic impulses”, and try to make a distinction between coerced rape and not coerced rape (as if it exists), the more you are excusing the awful actions of rapists.

        Alcohol does NOT equal consent in any case. And in many cases, rapists are mentally stable individuals who have merely absorbed the prevalent cultural messages that the line between consensual sex and rape is very blurry.

      • Atikah March 13, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

        Why are you replying this to me? My comment is sarcastic but I definitely do not think alcohol is consent or say so.

      • Arielle Z. March 13, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

        Sorry, I meant to reply to the original poster “concerned adult” but could not find where.

  3. faith k. March 12, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

    thank you so much for writing this, it is so incredibly true, happens far too often regardless of alcohol, and the exact same thing that you’ve gone through has happened to way too many of the people close to me for me to be okay with it

  4. wordsfromcollege March 12, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your story. I know writing about this could not have been easy.

  5. Jax March 12, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

    Reblogged this on Self Prescribed Creativity and commented:
    from my heart exactly.

  6. Thankyou March 12, 2014 at 10:36 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your story was very articulate and well-written. I am so sorry about what happened to you, and very much respect your courage to share your story and initiate change.

    I really wish there was a space at Northwestern to have honest and open dialogue about sexual assault.

  7. J. Natrasevschi March 13, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    Reblogged this on Protect Yourself and commented:
    1 of 4 women are raped or sexually assaulted on a campus. Be kind to each other. No means No the first time it is said.

  8. Alex March 13, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    So you consented to sex and then called it non-consentual? I give you a 10 in the mental gymastics.

    • Sean March 13, 2014 at 10:50 am #

      Alex, your definition of “consent” fits neither the legal nor the moral definition. A coerced “yes” is not consent.

      • Scott March 13, 2014 at 11:50 am #

        Your definition of “coerced” fits neither the legal or moral definition. She could have left the room at any time. One vigorous “no, get off me, you creep” would have gotten the job done. The fact that you don’t want to hurt a guy’s feelings doesn’t mean that he coerced you.

      • Sean March 13, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

        This is how friend rape happens, and this is how people—people like you, Scott!—apologize for it and excuse it. There’s always something else the victim could have done, in hindsight. Some reason what happened was their fault, not the rapist’s. So let’s break it down.

        Did she feel pressured? If she did, then her “yes” was coerced. Did she feel like she *couldn’t* say no? Coerced. Did he continue asking when it was obvious she didn’t want to? Then her eventual “yes” was most likely coerced.

        “No” is not the only way to indicate lack of consent. The fact that he ignored all of the other ways she was trying to communicate her “no” does not mean that she was not clear about her wishes—and it doesn’t make him any less culpable for trampling them.

        So yes. Moral and legally wrong. Unless you have the morality of a rapist.

      • wow March 13, 2014 at 10:41 pm #

        I don’t understand why she couldn’t just say no, and instead had to resort to soft excuses to try to convince the guy otherwise. Has our society really devolved into one where women simply CAN’T be expected to say no to sex? These kinds of events don’t empower us women, rather just make us seem more and more like sexual objects for men.

    • Tiernan March 13, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

      Alex and Scott –

      Sure, she could have left the room at any time. The author of the piece certainly could have refused to consent; however, that does not mean that she is not the victim of sexual assault.

      I am not claiming that her actions were the best they could have been, and I don’t believe that she is either, as she states that “the incidents of sexual assault that occur most commonly on campus are murky and mild,” and she is not placing all of the blame on her aggressor.

      However, I believe that you both are falling into the category of “victim blaming.” No person should put constantly pressure someone else for sexual acts once they have said no or expressed that they were not interested. This falls into the often cited expression “‘no’ means no,” which really translates in this situation to: “resistance means no.”

      It is much easier to pressure someone for sex than it is to deny it (which the author says directly in her piece, and I agree wholeheartedly). It is unfair of you to ignore the fact that this woman was in a difficult situation that could have easily been avoided had her aggressor behaved more appropriately.

      Her call to action at the end of the piece simply asks people to look inside of themselves, to examine the culture of rape and sexual assault, and above all, to be more considerate of one’s peers. In essence, she is asking that people don’t pressure others for sex, because it creates a situation in which poor choices can be made.

      Please examine your reaction to this piece.

      Best wishes,
      Tiernan

      • Bob March 13, 2014 at 11:44 pm #

        She didn’t even hint at no. She simply deflected his advances. Some might interpret deflection as playful fore play.

        Instead of wondering why this shit happens, do yourself a favor and learn how to stand up for yourself. It’s not just about sex, it’s about everytime. If u can’t back ur principles through behavior than you are weak and will continue you to get walked on the rest of your life, whether it’s sexual assault, or having your money embezzled by “someone you trust”.

        Seriously if someone trust pulls that type of shit on you, than you don’t know how to pick the right friends. I would suggest not spending time alone with anyone cause you don’t know have very good judgement.

  9. B March 13, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    You are incredibly brave to put this out there. I too have had an experience (slightly less murky but similarly a situation where I thought I could trust someone) and am also shocked by the number of women and men who share their story when I share mine.

    I also feel like someone punched me in the stomach as I read this. The ex-boyfriend who assaulted me is now a senior at Northwestern. He was never held accountable – I made a series of decisions that were the right ones at the time, in part based on the fact that I was told by a lawyer that the case would never make it anywhere in criminal court. But now I can’t help wondering if my decision to stay silent has put you in harm’s way.

    That open, honest conversation needs to start happening now. An emphasis on saying yes rather than saying no, on enthusiastic consent being cool and necessary rather than an added perk, needs to happen now.

  10. yapoliticks March 13, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    Reblogged this on yapoliticks and commented:
    Thoughtful piece for all colleges students to take a moment to read.

  11. Brenda S March 13, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    I just wanted to thank you so, so much for putting your story out there and writing this. I have almost the exact same story and you have managed to capture my every thought and feeling before, during, and after my own incidents.
    When I started telling people of my history with sexual assault, I found that while my female friends were sympathetic, some of my male friends were accusatory and had serious problems understanding how I could “allow” myself to be taken advantage of, as if that question somehow makes sense. After sharing this on Facebook and with a few of my more accusing friends, they began to understand.
    Thank you again for writing this.

  12. KC March 18, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    Thank you for this because I too, can relate. It hurts me to think about how I lost track of the number of times I said “no” because it couldn’t fit on my hands anymore. I never pictured it would look like that either — CSI and SVU don’t show that side of sexual assault often enough.

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