Recently, the internet has been abuzz with sexual assault on college campuses. It’s all over the news, finally getting the publicity it needs in order to stop happening. Sexual assault is not only unacceptable, it is morally repugnant and happening in ridiculous numbers all over the world. We probably all know someone who has been sexually assaulted, whether we know it or not. It’s an issue we often push to the back of our minds, recognizing it is a problem every time we read about it, but not letting it interrupt our daily lives. For every victim though, escaping the reality of the assault is not that easy – every time their name is mentioned, every time they think about that night, every time these articles are published – the assault becomes all that much more real again.
In an effort to not lose the individual in a sea of statistics, we need to hear their stories. Because in seeing the trees for the forest, we can see how close their stories are to our lives.
My friend was sexually assaulted in my bed. I didn’t find out until weeks later, but there it was. I was out of town for the weekend when it happened. My friend, Melissa*, went out with a group of our friends to some bars. They drank, they danced, they had a good time. George*, the designated driver, bought everyone drinks. George and Melissa danced together, and even though Melissa wasn’t really interested in pursuing things further, she was drunk and having a good time dancing. At the end of the night, George drove everyone back to where we lived. Everyone else split off, and George and Melissa somehow ended up in my room. George pushed Melissa on the bed and put his hand in her pants. Melissa was very drunk, George entirely sober, but Melissa knew this was not something she wanted. He dry humped her as she told him to stop. He unzipped his pants as he fingered her. She kept telling him to stop, but he didn’t. At some point his hands were around her neck, not choking her, but threatening nonetheless. She didn’t fight back physically, but she told him “no” over and over again. He told her not to worry, that he “wouldn’t put it in,” as if this was supposed to be somehow comforting to her. He asked if he could cum for her, and again, she told him “no.” Eventually, Melissa doesn’t remember exactly how, she and George ended up in the hallway with other people and the night came to an end.
Melissa never reported this incident, and the number of people she’s told is very limited. George was a friend, and though Melissa knows that she wasn’t asking for any of this to happen, she feels bad for leading him on. Of the people she has told, some people have brushed it off, saying that George “just doesn’t know where the line is.” This may have been true, when it came to George’s previous flirting, inappropriate comments, and touchy-feely personality. But when it comes to sexual assault, there is no grey area. As soon as someone says “no,” the line has been drawn. “No” is the end. But for so many victims around the country and around the world, “no” doesn’t stop them from being attacked.
*All names have been changed for privacy purposes.
As children, we are taught to “just say no.” When tickling a sibling, we learn that if they say “no,” you have to stop. “No means no.” But what happens when “no” doesn’t work? According to the CDC, 19% of undergraduates have experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college. That is almost 1 in 5 people. According to some statistics, the number is 1 in 4. This means that every person, almost without a doubt, knows someone who has been sexually assaulted. It also means that you may know someone who has been the perpetrator of sexual assault. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that 60% of sexual assaults never get reported to the police. Like Melissa, these victims’ stories remain untold, unknown, and unreported.
It’s time for a change. College campuses are stepping up, the White House is stepping in, and we, as college students, as young people, as millennials, need to stand together. We need to listen to the stories we are told, be aware of the stories we aren’t told, and tell the stories that need to be told. The least we can do is support one another – we need to stand strong and show that we will not accept sexual assault. And never be afraid to “stand up for what you believe in, even if it means standing alone.”
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(photo via flickr.com)