CrimeNews

Surviving, moving on from date rape easier said than done



It was a Saturday night like any other. There was a party. Drinks were flowing, music was blaring and people were dancing, enjoying the company of peers without the looming stress of college schoolwork.

But for University law student Sara — whose name has been changed on conditions of anonymity — it was a night that would damage her self-confidence, ambition and faith in others thereafter. @@real name? Jennifer [email protected]@

She had attended the party with her classmate, a distant male friend who had texted her earlier to invite her out. Afterward, they planned to go to a bar. But a few minutes into the car ride, Sara realized she had been lied to. Rather than take her to their planned location, the man took her back to his house and sexually assaulted her.

“I said ‘no’ outright, two or three times. But I think a lot more of my rejection was physical, trying to avoid his touch and push him off me,” Sara said. “I tried formulating an exit strategy … (but) he basically forced himself on me when we got there.”

With nine reported sex offenses in 2009, the University is no stranger to sexual violence. Yet, figures do little to expose the true magnitude of acquaintance rape on college campuses, as it is one of the most underreported types of sexual assault.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in four college women have been raped or suffered attempted rape. Of all instances reported, 90 percent are perpetrated by someone previously known to the victim, making it even more difficult for victims to step forward.

“For some people, reporting it doesn’t feel like a comfortable choice,” said Elly Maloney, self defense program coordinator at the University’s Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS). “It might be traumatizing and upsetting to have to explain their story numerous times. So they choose to do other things to recover from the assault.”@@http://grrrlzrock.com/wordpress/?cat=9@@

Like many victims of acquaintance rape, Sara chose not to file a formal charge against her attacker. She wanted to cope with her experience away from the judicial limelight. She wanted to return to her normal routine, desperate to regain her focus on schoolwork. And, as is the case in many instances, a part of her was unsure where to place blame for what had transpired that night.

“Although every rational part of me knows that I was raped, a part of me says that I didn’t react like I should have,” Sara said. “It was two in the morning. I should have known there would have been no bars open. I should have gotten a taxi and gone home.”

Sara’s second-guessing and reluctance to call herself a victim is common among survivors of sexual assault. Many tend to blame themselves as a way to cope, move on and take charge of their own circumstances.

“If we identify sexual assault as something we have control over, it’s a little less terrifying,” SASS’ Youth Education Program Coordinator Wendy Maurer said. “Everyone’s coping process is going to be different.”@@http://www.sass-lane.org/youth-education@@

Part of the reason why victims blame themselves stems from cultural attitudes, Maloney explained. Many question whether the assault could have been prevented based on how the victim presented herself — what she was wearing, or how much she was drinking.

“We have a common understanding that if you (go) to a place and get drunk, then you’re responsible for whatever happens,” Maloney said. “When, in reality, it has nothing to do with what someone is doing before the assault. The responsibility lies with the perpetrator.”

Fueling this notion is the idea of acquaintance rape as a lesser form of sexual assault, as it defies the mistaken stereotype of rape as perpetrated by an armed stranger in a dark alley.

In Sara’s case, there was no avoiding her attacker after the assault. Within the tight-knit law school community, Sara continued to see him roam the halls of the Knight Law Center and other social [email protected]@http://www.law.uoregon.edu/slideshows/lawcenter/@@

But Sara sought help. She started seeing a therapist directly after the attack. She found comfort in trusted friends and was offered academic support through the law school. This, she said, was crucial in helping her start to move on, rather than letting her assault consume her.

Today, Sara is working to rebuild both her confidence and trust in people. She struggles to cultivate relationships and has to force herself to not withdraw from others.

“It made me doubt one of the fundamental aspects about how I interact with other people,” Sara said. “It makes it difficult to really have true and good interactions, especially when you’re trying to get close to someone.”


Do you appreciate independent student journalism? Emerald Media Group is a non-profit organization. Please consider a donation to support our mission.

Donate


Comments

Tell us what you think:


Deborah Bloom

Deborah Bloom