Freshmen girls especially, beware, your first few weeks on campus is the most dangerous period in your life to become a victim of rape and sexual assault. The excitement of college should be tempered by the reality that some predatory guys are targeting you as easy prey. Here’s how to survive and protect yourself if you are raped or sexually assaulted.
First know the facts: you are at greater risk of sexual assault and rape at college than anywhere else including the military. One in four to one in five women are victimized by rape or attempted rape during college. That’s over 300,000 women in the class of 2018. These women will be your roommates, friends, sorority sisters, and classmates. Look around and consider that one of the five girls in your suite, at your dining hall table, or in your study group has or will be a victim of rape and sexual assault, most likely during the first semester of your freshmen year.
A relatively small number of predatory men on campus commit the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults. Rape culture tolerates these predators and validates their well-established methods and excuses. These guys come in many forms, but they will almost always be someone you know and someone who carefully wins your trust. They will be your ‘boyfriends,’ ‘hook ups,’ ‘study partners,’ ‘Greek date night buddies,’ and the guy who ‘graciously’ takes care of you when you’re too intoxicated to find your room, keys, or cell phone.
Rape and sexual assault is defined differently in every state. While knowing the law is important, it’s even more important to use common sense. According to Black’s law dictionary, a battery is quite simply “an intentional and offensive touching of another without lawful justification.” The Title IX standard is even easier: unwelcome. This should be your personal standard: ANY unwelcome physical contact of any part of your body is a violation. If something feels weird then it probably is.
When you are raped or sexually assaulted you may feel embarrassed, guilty, dirty, complicit, and violated. Drunk sex is still rape and it’s not your fault. You might not remember everything immediately (which is one after-effect of rape drugs which can be easily produced in a dorm room) and your first instinct will be to take a hot shower and hide under the covers in your own bed. This is the worst thing you can do.
There are two defenses to rape and sexual assault: consent and denial. In almost every case, the perpetrator will claim that either nothing happened or that you agreed to even the most bizarre and inexplicable sexual act. You need to think and act defensively to protect yourself. After calling a parent or trusted friend, here’s what you must do:
1. Resist the urge to shower, hide, or urinate. If you were drugged or raped, there will be semen or other critical evidence on and in your body. THIS EVIDENCE MUST BE PRESERVED. The latest date rape drugs are difficult to detect and disappear quickly. Immediately go to the nearest rape crisis center or hospital where you want a SANE exam (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner). This is the best and often the only way to gather evidence (even if you were not sexually penetrated) and provide the treatment and care you need including the morning after pill, HIV and STD testing, and medical follow-up. Any delay puts your health at risk. You must do this ASAP, preferably within hours. Ask specifically to be tested for drugs other than alcohol.
2. Immediately report the incident to law enforcement. You should file a police report yourself in person and once it’s filed get a copy. Do not rely on campus authorities to do it. Do not rely on the SANE nurse or hospital social worker to do it. Do not trust anyone who says that they can handle it better than law enforcement. The decision whether to prosecute is up to the district attorney and in many ways you. But without a timely police report, there is nothing anyone can do to prosecute or have a record of what happened when the same perpetrator does the same thing (or worse) to another woman. Once the Title IX investigation begins, months may have passed and the perpetrator will have a lawyer meaning the police cannot question him.
3. Notify your school’s Title IX coordinator. Once again, don’t rely on anyone else to do this for you. You must file a written complaint yourself. And again, the decision on whether to move forward is largely your own, but without a written complaint and investigation, you are allowing a sexual predator to roam campus targeting other women to sexually assault and rape. Chances are you aren’t the first and you won’t be this guy’s last victim. And his next victim might be your roommate, best friend, or sister.
After you’ve taken all these steps, take care of yourself. Rape and sexual trauma will change you in subtle and sometimes profound ways. Get counseling, enroll in a support group, and focus on your mental and physical health. There are lots of campus and community resources to help. Don’t wait.
You also need an independent lawyer or advocate not connected with your school who is on your side and understands what you are going through. Don’t rely on friends, resident advisors, or campus officials to look out for your best interests. Only an independent professional with experience in campus sexual assault and rape can ensure that you receive proper treatment and a fair process. Protect yourself and protect your community; only by taking action can you change rape culture and hold perpetrators accountable.
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