“I was raped.”
Three words an estimated one in five college-age women have said at least once in their lifetime. Three words that leave some victims paralyzed in silence. But the time has come to give a voice to the voiceless.
This is why President Barack Obama launched his “It’s On Us” campaign last fall – to raise awareness for an issue that is a worldwide crisis.
“An estimated one in five women has been sexually assaulted during her college years – one in five,’’ the president said in announcing the initiative last September. “Of those assaults, only 12 percent are reported, and of those reported assaults, only a fraction of the offenders are punished. … It is on all of us to reject the quiet tolerance of sexual assault and to refuse to accept what’s unacceptable.’’
As part of the initiative, the Obama administration has informed every college and university that receives federal funding about their legal obligations to prevent and respond to sexual assault. The administration also created a rape-prevention task force to work with colleges and universities and help them develop best practices for preventing and responding to sexual assault.
As part of this effort, the University of Central Florida’s Counseling and Psychological Services department held a presentation for students on March 5 titled, “Only Yes Means Yes for Sex.”
Not one student attended.
And that’s part of the problem. Students are largely tuned out of this issue; one that could be affecting the student next to them in class, their roommate or even themselves in the future. It is impacting students all over the world.
This is why Centric magazine and journalism students at Apeejay Stya University in Gurgaon, India, are teaming up this semester to turn a spotlight on the problem and help students to see what is right in front of them. In America, about 22 million women have been raped, according to statistics reported by USA Today. Our partners report that in the city of Delhi, the number of reported rapes more than doubled to 1,636 between 2012 and 2013. Police there attribute the increase to better reporting in the aftermath of a high-profile gang rape in 2012 that garnered worldwide attention.
But like here in America, convictions for the crime of rape are only a small percentage of the overall reported number of cases in India. Only 23 percent of the Delhi cases ended in convictions in 2013. In Florida, 55 rapes were reported to campus police departments in 2012 and 2013, according to an Orlando Sentinel analysis. None of them ended in conviction. Closer to home at UCF, 16 rape cases were reported in 2012 and 2013. There were arrests in four of the cases, but no convictions of rape.
Our Apeejay Stya partners report that in some of the cases in Delhi, pressure was exerted on women by “community members’’ to withdraw their complaints. In others, the complainant said she filed a false case for money or as a result of a property dispute. All of these resulted in acquittals.
At UCF’s India Center, which seeks to broaden understanding of that country, Information Specialist Stephanie Jarvis said sexual assault in India, as in America, is a crime that generates few convictions.
“Statistically a rape happens every 30 minutes in India, but the conviction rate is low so most men get away with it, which seems to condone it somehow in the eyes of the people,” Jarvis said.
At Florida universities, rape cases can be tough to prosecute because many times alcohol is involved, police say, or victims withdraw their complaints. “The most common scenarios we see involve people who know each other and alcohol,” stated Courtney Gilmartin, public information officer for UCF police.
But police say they treat rape cases seriously and throw all their resources at them, including assigning several officers to investigate, DNA testing clothing and other evidence.
“There is no blanket one size fits all outcome for sexual assaults, they are looked at on a case by case basis,” according to Gilmartin. She also stated that if a sexual assault does happen and the victim wishes to press charges they should not shower and report it immediately, find someone they trust to go through the process with them and head to UCF’s Victim Services office so they can be aware of their options.
Christine Mouton, chief advocate of Victim Services at UCF, says ultimately awareness and prevention of rape is the responsibility of everyone in the UCF community, not just the police.
“We all need to police each other in our behavior,” said Mouton.
She said she is aware that some college students tend to drink excessively, dress provocatively or use illegal drugs. But students also need to be aware that predators are always lurking, waiting to take advantage of this toxic mix. Mouton encourages students to know the warning signs and to do everything in their power to put a stop to a tragedy before it occurs.
Being a bystander who intervenes is a key tactic to prevent campus sexual assault, Mouton said. Stepping in when you notice someone has had too much to drink, helping them find their trusted friends and making sure no one has the chance to take advantage of them could make all the difference in the lives of a potential victim.
Mouton also said how crucial it is that authority figures on campus be extremely aware of the signs as well. Mouton said that the UCF police can’t be everywhere, so everyone on campus needs to learn to protect each other. This goes beyond watching for out for obvious signs. By not listening to sexist jokes or entertaining inappropriate remarks or behavior, students can begin to make a difference.
For example, one male UCF student standing in line at a campus restaurant recently said to another male student, “I raped that test’’ in describing his alleged success on an exam.
A male faculty member standing in front of them in line, turned and said, “So that would make you a … rapist? Felonies aren’t funny.’’
However, sometimes there is no one to step in to stop an assault from happening. If a person is assaulted, it’s important for others not to blame the victim, Mouton said.
This “blame the victim” mentality exists in both the United States and India. A brutal gang-rape case in New Delhi made international headlines in 2012 after a 23-year-old student lost her life. One of the six perpetrators convicted in the rape and murder, Mukesh Singh, told a British filmmaker, that the young woman lost her life because, “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night,” according to a story in the New York Times.
Singh’s comment outraged many but reflected prevailing views of gender in India, where women struggle to be valued as highly as men, according to Jarvis.
“After a woman is sexually assaulted in India some consider her life to be tarnished; she will have a hard time getting married, if she isn’t already, and her family will sometimes send her away,” Jarvis said.
Here in the U.S., UCF Counseling and Psychological Services therapist Stacy Nale-Stadom says society has been working from the wrong assumption. “Rather than working from ‘no means no’ we need to be working from ‘yes means yes.’ Sometimes there is no way for the victim to say no,” Nale-Stadom said.
When people blame victims for being raped, they are reinforcing the idea that it’s OK to take advantage of others if the victim isn’t in her right mind to be aware of it. Rather than teaching women not to dress a certain way or to be afraid of strange men, society needs to teach men to respect women for their clothing choices and vice versa, Nale-Stadom said.
“Sexual assault isn’t about sex; it’s about asserting power,” Nale-Stadom said.
Students need to make the effort to become educated about sexual assault, Mouton and Nale-Stadom said, so more victims are willing to speak about their assaults. UCF’s Victim Services encourages students who feel confused or afraid about expressing what happened to them to come speak with them either on the phone or in person. According to Mouton, the victim doesn’t have to press charges against the perpetrator if she doesn’t want to. Victim Services can provide crisis intervention, emotional support, safety planning and practical assistance, all of which is confidential, according to Mouton.
Sexual assault may be an uncomfortable topic for students to discuss, but it needs to be a conversation everyone is participating in. The more students discuss, the more awareness will be raised and action will be taken.
One UCF student, who was sexually assaulted last year off campus after her drink was spiked at a downtown Orlando bar, said it’s important for men, women, victims and those who care about them to talk about sexual assault. Centric is not revealing the student’s name out of respect for her privacy.
While at the bar, she got separated from a female friend she arrived with. After consuming only one drink, she lost consciousness and woke up the next morning in a strange room with a man who refused to return her cellphone. She was dazed, confused and panicked.
“I begged the guy to call 911,’’ she said. “But he took my phone and said the police could not come to his residence.’’
She escaped from the apartment and made her way out to the sidewalk.
“Luckily there was a bystander walking his dog. It was about 6:30 in the morning. And he told the first responders where I was.’’
The young woman got medical attention, reported the assault to authorities and today continues her journey of healing from this horrible ordeal.
“I think a lot of people don’t want to talk about it [sexual assault],’’ she said. “But I found relief from talking about it. I’m seeing a therapist, and talking about it has caused me to understand that a lot of people put the blame on themselves when what’s happening is that you’re singled out as a target and a victim, and it’s not your fault.’’
About This Project
Journalism students at UCF’s Nicholson School of Communication and Apeejay Stya’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Gurgaon, India, joined forces to spotlight a heinous crime that afflicts both American and Indian society: sexual assault. Under the direction and collaboration of their professors, Rick Brunson at UCF and Pervaiz Alam and Malvika Kaul at Apeejay Stya, the students produced a multimedia, multinational story package that aired on Appejay Stya’s campus radio station and was published on the Nicholson School’s Centric magazine website. It is our hope that this project raises awareness, informs and empowers students and prevents future rapes. We would love to hear what you think about this story at email@example.com. You can also join the conversation about this issue on our Facebook page.