My Story of Sexual Assault
I was once told you can’t control what happens to you, only the way you react.
I chose the University of Arkansas last minute. It was a reluctant decision, but it became one I ended up embracing, loving even. I thought I’d envy my friends that ended up at schools I had once sought after, but the experiences I've had here are ones I wouldn’t trade for anything.
It’s my second year here, and I wish I could say I still felt this way. I wish I could say the magic simply faded, or maybe it just isn’t the same living off campus. But the reality is: 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted during their time in college. It’s a statistic that’s been repeated, and repeated, and even questioned for its validity. Ultimately, that’s all it really is to most people, a statistic.
I can’t change that I’m one of the four, now. It’s a permanent transition. And at times, I couldn’t change the way I reacted. Responding to a traumatic event doesn’t follow a timeline with expiration dates for feelings. It doesn’t follow a sleep schedule, take breaks for your midterms, or leave itself at home while you’re on spring break.
If I didn’t say it out loud, it didn’t happen. If I didn’t call it rape, it wasn’t. And that’s the way I carried on. Until all of the sudden, at 4am, a cheesy hotline number made its way onto my fingertips, turning into a phone call that would change my life. Did you know that rape is usually a serial offense? Or that DNA evidence isn’t some requirement you have to check off before you can report anything? Because I didn’t. I didn’t think about the people who may have been assaulted before me, or the ones in the future who could end up in the same position as me: scared, seemingly alone, uninformed, grieving, and exhausted. I didn’t think about the other statistic- the number of people who are sexually assaulted and never report what happened to them.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and this year’s theme is Embrace Your Voice. I found the strength to embrace mine, despite how aware I thought I was, thanks to someone on a hotline whose name I’ll never know. But this post isn’t all about me. It isn't only about embracing your voice. Because at times your voice will carry louder than you expected, echo even, and sometimes you’ll get laryngitis. It's a two-sided coin, which is why this post is also about who listens. When I chose to attend this university, I knew sexual assault attended all of them. I know I have no control over the fact that we’re not strangers anymore. But I have control over the way I react. So why is it that when I tried to embrace my voice, I felt like everything had been soundproofed? Why couldn’t I find directions to a stage? How many others have felt the same way before me? How many will feel this way in the future?
Don’t Keep It Under Cover is a campaign that aims to end the stigma against speaking out. It also intends to break down the barriers that exist once you do. And unfortunately, they’re more than just cultural obstacles. They’re institutional. And they don’t just exist at the University of Arkansas, they exist everywhere. So regardless of where you go to school, or if you go to school, I encourage you to embrace your voice or be someone who listens. I ask that you help me tear down the soundproof walls. I ask that you help me draw maps to stages, and then build more.
When I finally reported my sexual assault to the University of Arkansas, I worked with two people, almost never simultaneously. And the problems don't lie with the actual people. It’s that there are not *enough* people working to ensure students’ safety on campus, specifically in regards to sexual assault. And the individuals that are given Title IX duties wear multiple hats; they’re also professors, or department chairs, or athletic directors. Out of the people listed as Title IX staff, only ONE of those people has no other responsibilities listed. When you choose where you go to school, one of the things advertised is that school's student-faculty ratio. At the University of Arkansas, it’s listed as 19:1. But if you think about it in terms of student to faculty members who are entirely devoted to cases of sexual assault, harassment, etc., that number becomes 27,558:1.
The same goes for victim advocacy: one listed advocate who also serves as the director of health marketing for the entire university and as a professor. One advocate, 27,558 students. So, if 1/4 women experience sexual assault in college, and that isn’t even accounting for other genders, or other cases like harassment and discrimination, then you should question why there aren’t more individuals on campus devoted to this paramount issue.
But if you want to look at it holistically, and give the university the benefit of the doubt, let’s keep going. We’ve established the university isn’t using its resources to give this issue the attention it demands. Hopefully this means there’s a clear, easy-to-follow policy, then. In this case, hypothetically speaking, maybe we wouldn’t necessarily need to pay anyone a salary, because most of the logistics would be explained beforehand. There would be a clear way to report, an understandable timeline of the process, resources on resources on resources, survivor-friendly language, and so on.
Don’t Keep It Under Cover. For the month of April, I ask you to join me in showing one another, showing universities, and showing survivors who have remained silent that the days of stage fright are over. These desensitized statistics need to be felt- survivors are more than numbers and percentages- they’re you and me and real people we know. I ask that you like and share this page, share the graphic on your Instagram story, tweet the hashtag #DontKeepItUnderCover. Keep the conversation going and open a dialogue with the university. If you don’t go to the University of Arkansas, open a dialogue with your own. Look at your workplace’s policy on sexual assault and harassment. Look at your own policy, what do you do in your daily life to challenge rape culture? For the month of April, I’ll be posting resources, stories, and information on everything from how to report a violation and what to expect, to encouraging playlists for survivors.
For the month of April, I’ll also be carrying a sheet with me on campus, and on April 10th, I invite you to join me and carry your cover with you for the day, wherever you may be. If you OR someone you know has been sexually assaulted, join me in displaying the impact as more than a repeated, desensitized statistic. Join me in showing your university this matters. Join me in showing the survivors who remain silent that the stigma against speaking out is being torn down, that we care, and that we are here to support them no matter how they choose to respond and heal.
Excerpts taken from Don't Keep It Under Cover's Facebook page with author's permission. To read the full post, follow this link.