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College Campuses Mishandle Student Sexual Assault Cases

THIS ARTICLE IS COMPOSED OF SENSITIVE CONTENT

Rape cases are handled differently around the country, especially when it comes to university and college settings.

In September of this year, student Cecilia Carreras from the University of Richmond in Virginia reported being raped and assaulted by a fellow student. The suspect was not arrested or expelled, nor was he taken off his athletic team; in fact, Associate Dean of Richmond University Dan Fabian defended him, suggesting that it was reasonable for the man to “finish” the assault since he was close to an orgasm anyways.

A similar event took place at Stanford University in January of 2015, and this year—when Stanford student Brock Turner was released from jail after just three months of his measly six-month sentence for rape—this has left students and parents are wondering why rapists are continually allowed to walk the same streets, corridors, and campuses as their victims.

The Phoenix Center is a tri-institutional office on Auraria Campus that offers a safe haven for students, staff, and faculty to find academic and emotional advocacy in the wake of harassment or assault. They provide a wide range of resources like recurring workshops “Healthy Relationships 101” and “Bystander Intervention.”

From July 2015-June 2016, the Phoenix Center had at least 34 sexual assault clients, from domestic violence to stalking. This number has increased since 2013, when there were fewer than 30 cases per year. 

“We see it on a spectrum,” Shanna Petersen, Program Assistant of the Phoenix Center, said. “It can be anything from really severe cases to fondling and forced kissing and so on. We try to be aware of how sexual assault looks to different people.”

To report a sexual assault case, someone who has been assaulted or raped meets with an employee from the Title IX office who will take a statement. The person seeking assistance can request an advocate for emotional support or legal help, and when the statement is processed, the office comes up with a plan of action by speaking to the perpetrator and getting their side of the story.

“Title IX is a civil rights act that says students shouldn’t be facing any type of sexual discrimination on campus,” Petersen said. Petersen hopes to reach out to all students, faculty, and staff members on campus and diminish the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding the office.

“There are a lot of people who miss out and we need to start a conversation about rape culture,” Petersen said. “This isn’t a women’s issue or a white woman’s issue.”

Reporting an assault can be difficult and scary. Sixty percent of cases go unreported for a variety of reasons, such as the fear that others won’t believe the person who has been assaulted. There are several stigmas surrounding sexual assault cases, including what sexual assault looks like, who it can happen to, and how people can report it.

According to the Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center, or SAVA Center, in Colorado, one in four women and one in 17 men will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetime.

There are several other resources and offices on Auraria Campus that people who have been raped can entrust to report a case. Bystanders can also report a case if victims are unable or afraid to do so themselves.

The Blue Bench, an organization that aims to eliminate sexual assault through advocacy, prevention, and care, reports that more than 700 people are sexually assaulted in the US every day. Common misconceptions people have about filing a sexual assault case are that it’s difficult, it will go unreported to police, and that the suspect won’t be charged or sent to jail.

Men and women alike condemn those who have been raped through victim-blaming and online trolling, despite the fact that assault is extremely hard for the victim to come to terms with. No one wakes up wanting to be raped; the amount of self guilt and loathing it brings for the person who has been raped can be unsurmountable.

A student who has been raped—who wished to remain anonymous—reflected on their experience and feelings on the subject. “It happened when I was 18 and new to college, but it didn’t happen at CU Denver,” the student said. “I had been a geek in my younger years, still a virgin, and had no prospects of talking to boys. A friend of mine had invited me to a party and I went. I remember kissing a boy, but after that is complete darkness. I woke up naked on the floor with no recollection of how I got there.”

“It wasn’t for years later that I understood what happened,” the student continued. “I had given myself the benefit of the doubt that nothing happened, but later when I was intimate for the first time with my then-boyfriend, my memories came back to me and I remembered what happened. Losing your virginity can be extremely painful physically, and that pain seemed familiar. I put two and two together and realized that I had been raped.”

The reality of the situation is that sexual assault is not easy to recover from, nor is it easy to forget. People who have been raped often end up with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, paranoia, and other mental illnesses.

“It was brutal,” the student said. “There is no other way to say it. I blamed myself—if I hadn’t gone to that party, if I had made better friend choices, if I controlled my alcohol intake, maybe none of this would’ve happened to me. I remember crying for days. I felt like I was robbed of my purity. Everywhere I turned, it felt like everyone thought I was a slut. I still to an extent, feel that today. I told my mom but I still don’t think she understands.”

“It still makes me angry,” the student said. “Why me? Why do men get to rape women and nothing happens? A part of me wishes that more men understood just what it feels like to be raped. I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone, but maybe people wouldn’t sexually assault one another if they knew how dead it makes someone else feel inside.”

The student transitioned into talking about the world views on rape and where society should go from where it stands now. “People need to throw their religious views out the window and not use it as a means of condemning others,” they said. “There are the religious right-wingers who think I asked for this, and that solves nothing. It doesn’t make the world a better place to blame someone for being raped.”

Even some of the language surrounding sexual assault is considered wrong and outdated. “Let’s stop using the word victim,” the student said. “I’m not a victim; that assumes my trauma is my identity and it most certainly is not. I was taught not to let the negative define you. I don’t want people to feel bad for me. I’m someone who has been through a lot, but this happens every single day, all over the world. It affected me profoundly and still hits me hard some days, but life moves on. If I spend every day dwelling on it, the person who raped me wins.”

The student spoke about their coping methods and their life after the event. “I like to paint a lot these days, and go to concerts,” they said. “I’m just trying to live everyday to the highest of my potential, not only for myself, but for those who have been raped who cannot.”

Rape culture is overwhelmingly overlooked; it’s a taboo topic and most of the world acts as though it should never be talked about. Women nationwide are upset that the new prospective Commander-in-Chief has said, “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything if you’re famous.” This isn’t an exaggeration by the media nor a quote taken out of context, but a blatant statement from the man preparing to run the country for the next four years.

After Donald Trump was named President-elect, people who have been assaulted or raped, as well as their allies, spoke up about their discomfort. They took to social media, and one tweet by
@lizstrand on Twitter went viral: “People ask why women don’t report sexual assault. You got your answer: a man can have double digit accusers & still be elected President.”

The political climate of American right now is a clear indicator that rape and sexual assault of any kind are still greatly overlooked by a near-majority of the country. Rapes on college campuses happen at exponential rates, and sexual violence against women of color is at a higher rate than anyone else in the country. Taboo or not, it needs to be discussed.

-Dilkush Khan & Ashley Bauler

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