UNC Charlotte student reveals real life experience; questioning the problem of campus rapes and exploring solutions
It’s her first college party, but she doesn’t plan for the night to end the way it did. He seems like a nice guy. Nothing feels harmless, that is, until the next morning when she awakes disoriented and scared, with more questions than she has answers.
“I was date raped,” said the 18-year-old student. “It took a while for me to admit it, but that’s what it was. There’s no denying it.”
This scenario depicts the vivid reality of one female 49er’s horrific evening out. The student, who wishes to remain anonymous, painfully described her account of a sexual assault and the fear she felt in the aftermath.
Unfortunately, she is not alone in this. While it is no secret sexual assaults occur on college campuses, many incidents similar to this one go unreported, skewing the numbers and distorting perceptions of the college “rape culture.”
In their 2012 nationally represented survey of adults, the Center for Disease Controls reported that 37.4 percent of female rape victims were first raped between ages 18 to 24.
Recently, the concern of reported rapes has grown even more.
A recent report by Harvard University reveals some startling statistics.
In 2011, the university documented 12 confidentially reported rapes. In 2012, that number nearly doubled to 23. Sadly, these statistics are not isolated to Harvard alone. Many other institutions throughout the U.S. report even higher rates of sexual assault.
Colleges and universities are required to report such findings under the Clery Act. The act is part of a federal law, requiring institutions to disclose annual information about campus crime.
The annual report includes crimes on homicide, manslaughter, forcible and non-forcible sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson that occur on or near campus for the previous three-calendar years.
Last year, UNC Charlotte released report documents that five forcible sex offenses occurred in 2012. This is an increase from the three offenses reported in 2011. It was also the highest number of reported rapes in the last few years.
Updated federal law has required the collection of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking statistics throughout 2013 and will require these numbers be published in the 2014 report.
Although strictly enforced, this method has been inherently flawed, plagued with problems of underreporting (or no reporting) both by universities and victims.
Statistics show that most cases of sexual assault and rape occur within the first six weeks of a college student’s freshman year and despite efforts by universities, have been highly underreported in years past.
Jennifer Cook, former relationship violence and sexual assault health educator at UNC Charlotte’s Center for Wellness Promotion, as well as current academic advisor at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, reports that some of these reasons include being in new unfamiliar surroundings, experimenting with alcohol and drugs and being too trusting of others.
“Perpetrators are always looking for ways they can take advantage,” said Cook. “And unfortunately, incoming freshmen are an easy target.”
Coming in to college as an athlete, the female student relates to Cook’s statement, describing everything as “fresh and fun.”
She enjoyed going to parties and meeting new people, but admits feeling pressured to go out.
Wincing as she recalled the night of the incident, she says, “Someone handed me a red solo cup that night. It was my first drink. And from what I remember, also my last.”
The student, now a senior preparing for graduation, believes she was drugged and then taken advantage of sexually by a fellow athlete.
“It’s scary waking up in an unfamiliar place, not knowing what happened to you,” she said, explaining she was too embarrassed and scared to talk to someone at the time.
She is not the only one who feels this way. Cook said victims are often afraid no one will believe them, or worse, blame them for what happened.
“I see him on campus at times, and I still can’t look him in the eye, even three years later,” she said.
Sadly, this is all too common. Cook explained that this is a very private and emotional topic that many victims feel ashamed to report.
“Imagine having to talk to the police about every detail of your last experience . . . and it was against your will. How easy would that be?” she asked.
Nonetheless, there is another reason many incidents go unreported. According to Shawnté Elbert, a UNC Charlotte alcohol, tobacco and other drug health education specialist for the Center for Wellness Promotion, one important underlying factor in sexual offenses is the “lack of proper health education about drinking, drugs, and sex.”
Usually when Elbert gives seminars to students at the university, she does not discuss alcohol consumption without addressing consent and sexual assault as they almost always go hand-in-hand.
While it might be difficult to get students to stop drinking, or partying, “It’s not so difficult to educate them on how to do so responsibly, make conscious decisions, use basic common sense. If students are aware of the effects and dangers of partying and high alcohol consumption, the number of date rapes might start decreasing,” said Elbert
Many are also unaware of where to go for help, or how to legally deal with the situation.
The student expressed similar concerns, “I didn’t want to cause any trouble. I was scared, and I felt at fault,” she said.
Looking back now, she realizes others out there might feel the same way as she did, “They need to know it’s OK to seek help.”
Despite the higher numbers of sexual assault in the Harvard report, Cook said it doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in sexual assaults.
“More are getting reported because of changes in law, prevention education, and the increased comfort level of victims,” said Cook.
Like Elbert, Cook recognizes the importance of education, especially bystander intervention education.
This involves teaching the campus community to look out for one another. Cook said that a focus on shifting the culture in our society should also be emphasized.
“We have become so desensitized to sexual violence that it changes our whole attitude and approach to dealing with it,” said Cook.
Cook conveyed that while this is still a private sensitive topic that may be uncomfortable to discuss, one thing remains certain, which is the need for pro-active sexual health and alcohol awareness, and a movement to change the perception of the “rape culture.”
“The blame should always be put on the person who perpetrated the crime,” said Cook. “Drinking too much is not an automatic invitation to be raped.”
One solution could be to get college campuses to ensure more safety precautions, like the programs and services available through the Center for Wellness Promotion at UNC Charlotte.
Cook says more and more universities are beginning to develop specialized interpersonal violence programs, and she believes this is critical for creating change.
Universities need to take a holistic approach to get staff, faculty, counselors and law enforcement involved and willing to help, according to Cook.
This would create a positive and supportive environment., letting victims know they are not alone and that reporting the incident confidently is key.
Because many rapists are looking for someone to take advantage of, “It is all of our responsibilities to look out for each other and we should fight for strict penalties for violating someone’s personal boundaries,” said Cook.
“These students need to know they are not alone, that there is help. They can go from victim to survivor, and we are here for them,” said Elbert.
To report a rape encounter, contact a representative from the Wellness Promotions department of the Student Health Center here: https://wellness.uncc.edu/