Today while driving to work, I heard a report on NPR that blew me away. The news report said a recent survey confirms college women are the HIGHEST risk group for rape. 1 in 5, or 20% of college women admitted to being raped, but most decided not to report the crime. This is compared to 1 in every 6 American women who have survived attempted or completed rape at some point in their lifetime.
Choosing Not To Report
Why would victims of assault choose to not report the crime? Reports show that 50-90% of rapes in the general community aren’t reported. Many victims are afraid they won’t be believed or they blame themselves for the assault. We have a culture that tends to blame the victim: Surely she did something to bring this on herself!
Some are afraid of what the perpetrator will do. Some are hesitant about losing privacy and dealing with the intrusive questions they will have to answer. 50-80% of perpetrators are known to the victim. So, some people don’t report what has happened because they don’t want to press charges against a “friend”.
When A Friend Is Not A Friend
Many “acquaintance rapes” are premeditated or planned in advance. The process of grooming is well-documented. In this process, the perpetrator first looks for vulnerable women, testing the waters with suggestive remarks, touching, and intimate conversation. Over time, the person on the receiving end of this attention can become desensitized or used to the intrusive behavior and not notice the red flags that might be obvious to others. Finally, the perpetrator isolates the individual-getting her away from her friends or support group- so the assault can occur.
Part of the problem is that women mistake “nice” for safe. Anna Salter wrote a book, Predators, where she reports on countless interviews with incarcerated sexual predators. She says they openly admit to targeting overly trusting women, especially those who are alone. Other reports suggest the same: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124272157
Giving Consent…Or Not
The survey discussed on NPR showed 7% of men on college campuses admit to sexually assaulting college women and of those, 63% admitted to raping more than one woman!! Often drugs and alcohol are involved. Many assaults are taking place at parties. Some perpetrators said they consider a woman accepting a drink as an indication she wants sex.
Many are unaware or, possibly don’t care, that sex with someone who is incapacitated or intoxicated is considered sex without consent, making it “Simple Rape” according to Louisiana Law. Let me say it again more plainly: Sex with someone who is incapable of resisting or of understanding what she/he is doing because of intoxication is considered rape.
The Aftermath of Sexual Assault
I feel so strongly about this issue because I have watched too many young people struggle to recover from the trauma they’ve experienced. Sexual assault and abuse can affect every area of a person’s life. The road to recovery is long and hard. According to the World Health Organization (2002), victims of sexual assault are:
- 3x more likely to suffer depression
- 6x more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder
- 13x more likely to abuse alcohol
- 26x more likely to abuse drugs
- 4x more likely to consider suicide
So here is my advice to college students to stay safe:
- It feels like it could never happen to you, but think about those statistics: 20%!!!
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Travel in groups. Stay in groups at parties and outings.
- Dare to be different! Not everyone is choosing to drink, party, and have sex.
- If you choose to drink, only do so with people you would trust with your life.
- Have a designated driver and someone in the group who will remain alert, sober and see to it that everyone stays together and gets home safely.
- Follow your instincts. If someone seems too interested in buying you endless drinks, steer clear. If someone is getting creepy and too touchy…avoid him at all costs.
- Never leave your drink unattended and watch while it is being poured.
- Accepting a drink, or a meal, or even a kiss obligates you to NOTHING. You have the right to say NO to sex. Don’t let anyone manipulate or guilt you into sex.
If the unthinkable happens to you or a friend:
- Get to a safe place.
- Get medical attention.
- Do not shower or bathe. Put clothes you were wearing, unwashed, in a paper bag-to preserve them for evidence.
- Consider reporting the assault to campus or city police.
- In Baton Rouge, you may also call STAR: Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (formerly Rape Crisis). They offer medical, legal, emotional support, referrals, and counseling on their hotline. They also have hospital advocates who will be with victims during police procedures and the hospital examination.
- 24 HOUR HOTLINE:
- STAR Website: www.brstar.org
- 24 HOUR HOTLINE:
- A forensic exam, or “rape kit”, for collection of evidence for prosecution in criminal cases can be performed in any area hospital. It is recommended that you do this right away, in case you choose to press charges. If you are in Baton Rouge, my first choice would be Woman’s Hospital.
- Anyone can get a special forensics exam, whether or not you choose to report to the police. If you are still unsure about pressing charges, the kit can be held for a 30 days (in Louisiana), while you decide what you want to do.
- You can report a rape at any time, even months later, but police will be limited in what they can do without properly gathered evidence.
Sexual assault on our college campuses is appallingly common! Prevention is worth every bit of effort we can give to ensure the unthinkable never happens.
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and a registered nurse with several years experience helping people with healthy, successful living. I have worked on college campuses both in mental health and career counseling services. I was a contract counselor for the Rape Crisis Center and assisted in counseling survivors, writing curriculum for a support group for sexual trauma survivors and co-leading the group. I have presented at Sexual Trauma Awareness and Recovery workshops for professionals treating sexual trauma survivors.