Speak Up – Giving a Voice to Victims of Sexual Assault

In college, I was constantly meeting new people and making new friends. I never expected that a simple “like” would change my life. He was someone I met online, through a dating application. We had mutual friends, so naturally I asked if they approved before I agreed to a date. It was a Tuesday night I will never forget, I was wearing sweatpants, a backpack, flip-flops and no alcohol was involved. I was raped on April 2, 2013 in a college dorm room on my university’s campus.

I immediately reported my assault to police and the university. After testifying for the UCLA Administrative Hearing and the Grand Jury, he was expelled from all University of California schools and is currently in prison. I hope that by speaking up and sharing my story, I can encourage others who are silent to also report. It is never too late to take back the power that was lost. Sharing my story is one of the ways I have been able to heal, and by speaking up I hope I can combat the negative stereotypes that victims and survivors face on a daily basis.

It is estimated that one in four college-aged women, and one in sixteen college-aged men have been sexually assaulted; these people are someone’s daughters, sons, boyfriends, girlfriends, sisters, and brothers. Sexual assault is such an anonymous crime – that needs to change.

What can we do to resolve this sexual assault epidemic? First of all, we need to talk about it. Have an open dialogue and not consider it such a “taboo” subject anymore. Sexual assault is something that can affect everyone regardless of race, age, gender, or sexual orientation; anyone can be a victim of this crime. Although men are sexually assaulted in about 10% of cases, they struggle with the same pain, isolation, blaming, etc. that women do, and are even less likely to come forward and report. Including them and opening this dialogue to include everyone, all survivors, is necessary to ensure that sexual violence ends, not only for women, but for men as well.

We cannot continue to hide behind politeness. Victims are being shamed into silence. They are afraid to report or disclose what happened to them because of they way their school, peers, and the media portrays other victims and survivors. In 80% of sexual assaults on college campuses, the victim and the assailant know each other, either as acquaintances or friends. Victims are afraid of making waves within their own friend group by reporting. It is imperative that we speak up, empower ourselves and become survivors. Sexual violence in this day and age is not acceptable.

Colleges have a legal obligation to keep students safe, and to provide a working, learning, and living environment where students feel respected. Colleges need to address the sexual assault epidemic, more than any other institution because it is an epidemic, more common on college campuses than in any other institution. Despite the large number of women and men that are being sexually assaulted on college campuses, it still remains the most underreported crime of any crime, and is only reported an estimated 3-5% of the time. I have no complaints about the way my university handled my case. They listened to my story and expelled my assailant. However, I know I am lucky. I am grateful that I was able to finish my time at my college without my assailant sharing the same campus as me. Some universities would like to ignore bad publicity around “rape” or “sexual assault” allegations. Unfortunately failing to act only exacerbates the problem. Perpetrators remain on campus and are sent the message that their actions have no repercussions. That does not mean those who have spoken up and have been ignored should give up. For more information on how to have accusations be taken seriously by your campus go to www.endrapeoncampus.org.

The way society treats victims and survivors is also imperative to changing the culture surrounding sexual assault. The most important thing we can do to support survivors on campus and in the larger community is to believe them. Victims of sexual assault feel like their power has been taken away and when they report their assaults, or confide in friends or family, they are attempting to regain that power. Do not ask unnecessary questions. After my assault I was asked questions by friends that made me feel even more ashamed. Why were you there? What were you wearing? Had you been drinking? Why aren’t you crying? I was in shock and the reality of the situation is that every survivor goes through his or her own emotional healing process. President Obama’s #ItsOnUs campaign is revolutionary in changing the way people treat survivors. We need to make society a safer and more supportive place for survivors to come forward. It’s on all of us to create a culture where violence isn’t tolerated and where survivors are supported. This can be done by never, ever blaming the victim for what happened.

Most importantly, the way we can resolve this is by preventing it. I have a unique perspective on how we can do this. It is not our responsibility to not get raped. We do not prevent this by changing our clothes, carrying pepper spray, knowing self-defense, carrying whistles, etc.; that responsibility lies with the rapist. However I do think that we can change the statistics, lower the numbers of assaults per year and increase the number of reported assaults. The typical college-aged serial rapist will rape six times before he is first reported. I personally know that my assailant had sexually assaulted three women in his first year at UCLA before he was caught, there may have been more. But I know that there never will be more victims by that man because I spoke up and reported him. I held him accountable for what he had done and ended his chain of violence. This is how victims and survivors prevent this, by preventing this from happening to someone else by the same assailant.

Rape is not about sex, it’s about power. Victims feel like they have lost their power. One of the only ways to regain this power is to speak up, empower yourself, hold this person accountable for what they’ve done. Don’t ever be shamed into silence. Don’t ever let the actions of another person affect the person you want to become. That is when you become a survivor.