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Silence is violence

Awareness key to sexual assault prevention and support


  • Doug MacDonald

In the spring of 2002, Colorado College freshman Jodie* and her roommate were enjoying another Friday night -- drinking in their dorm room and then dancing and drinking more with friends at a party in one of the on-campus apartments.

A few hours into the evening, Jodie's ex-boyfriend, with whom she had broken up two months prior because he was emotionally abusive, showed up from Denver. Seeking to avoid trouble, Jodie stopped drinking, but she was already very inebriated.

When the girls were ready to leave, Jodie's ex offered to walk them back to their dorm. While her roommate got ready for bed, Jodie talked in the hallway with her ex. The next thing she remembers is waking up next to him, sore, bruised and angry.

"I knew that stuff had happened between us," said Jodie, whose next step that morning was to wake her ex and kick him out of the room.

"Did you use a condom?" she reluctantly asked.

"No" was his reply.

A day later, Jodie received emergency contraception from the campus health center, but returning to her normal activities was far from easy. She wasn't eating and rarely went to class for the next two weeks. She received some support from friends, but she wasn't aware of any on-campus avenues for help. "I didn't know where to go."

A sobering one in five

The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey in 2002 reported that seven out of eight rape victims are female. College women are especially vulnerable. The National College Women Sexual Victimization study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, found that a woman's statistical chance of being the victim of completed or attempted rape during her four-year college career is a sobering one in five.

Additionally, research by Mary Koss, a professor of public health at the University of Arizona -- whose 1987 study is the only national survey on men who have committed rape -- found that one in 13 male college students has committed acts that met the legal definition of rape or attempted rape. However, 84 percent of these described their actions as "definitely not rape."

This conclusion is supported by more recent research by Jackie White, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In a study published this year, White and her co-author, Paige Smith, found that 13.8 percent of the men in their longitudinal study had committed acts that met legal definitions of rape or attempted rape between age 14 and their fourth year of college.

Contrary to the stereotype -- that of a man jumping out from behind the bushes to violate an unsuspecting passer-by -- so-called "stranger rapes" occur rather infrequently. Someone known to the victim, be it a friend, acquaintance, intimate or relative, perpetrates two out of three sexual assaults, reports the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

During these so-called "acquaintance rapes," perpetrators rely on alcohol as their common weapon and use only the minimal amount of force necessary to subdue their victim into a sexual encounter, said Cari Davis, the executive director of TESSA, a Colorado Springs-based prevention and support center for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

In 2000, a national College Alcohol Survey conducted by researchers David Anderson of George Mason University and Angelo Gadaleto of West Chester University, found that alcohol is involved in 70 percent of acquaintance rapes -- making it a more pervasive date rape drug than GHB (gamma hydroxybutric acid), Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) or Katamine (ketamine hydrochloride), the most common liquids, powders and pills slipped into beverages to make victims confused, drowsy and/or unconscious.

This modus operandi can be facilitated in a college party scene of drinking, dancing and socializing amid throngs of young people seeking a good time.

"[Sexual assault or sexual misconduct] can take place on any given weekend," said Jeff Cathey, assistant dean of students at Colorado College.

Added Robert Wonnett, dean of students at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs: "Campuses aren't immune."

These comments indicate the readiness to address this issue at local colleges and universities (see "Raising awareness" below for more).

Get to a safe place

If you or someone you know is the victim of a sexual assault, the first thing you should do is get to a safe place. Seeking help for physical and psychological trauma is the next step, but how that is done is up to you.

"To me, the victim needs to be given the power back, to make the decisions that are right for her or him," said TESSA's Davis. "Our job as advocates is to give them as much good information as possible in order for them to make the best decision themselves."

Campuses and the Colorado Springs community have different confidential and nonconfidential avenues for acquiring help. Support and counseling is available from TESSA (crisis line: 633-3819; main line: 633-1462), as well as from RAINN's national sexual assault hotline (800/656-HOPE).

One of the most comprehensive options for medical attention is a rape kit. As part of the program, victims are examined by one of several specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE), who are on call 24 hours a day at Memorial Hospital.

Each exam is handled differently, individualized to the specifics of each victim, said Val Sievers, the statewide SANE coordinator for Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA).

An examination, which takes a couple of hours, usually includes a complete physical exam to evaluate bruises, bites or scratches. It can also include drawing blood and swabbing of the victim's mouth and skin to establish samples of the victim's DNA and the perpetrator's DNA. Additionally, pelvic examinations are sometimes performed.

STD prophylaxis and emergency contraception are also offered to the victim.

Cari Davis, executive director of TESSA. - SUNNIE SACKS

Showering, bathing or douching before this examination (including brushing your teeth) can destroy evidence and are not advisable.

A rape kit yields the best results when performed shortly after an incident. Within 72 hours is generally given as a guideline. Yet even if a victim showed up to the hospital a week or 10 days after an incident, Sievers noted, nurses would still document what they could and would also put the survivor in touch with TESSA and law enforcement.

The rape kit is one of the strongest pieces of evidence for a case against the assailant. However, this option is only available if the survivor involves the police because, under Colorado legal statutes, law enforcement is the party responsible for paying for collecting evidence.

Once contacted, police will conduct an investigation and turn the results of their investigation over to the district attorney's office. Based on the evidence collected, the district attorney then decides whether or not the case is prosecutable.

Breaking the cycle

Victim support services are only half the battle in addressing the issue of sexual violence.

"If we don't address the offenders, the problem will never end," said Davis, the executive director of TESSA.

David Lisak, an associate professor of psychology and the director of the Men's Trauma Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, is leading the way on research about "undetected rapists."

In a recent study, Lisak asked 1,882 college-age men about their sexual histories using questions that were framed to meet conservative legal definitions of rape, attempted rape and other forms of sexual assault. An example: "Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn't want to because you used physical force (twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.) if they didn't want to cooperate?"

Of that number, 120 men, or 6 percent, admitted to raping 483 women who they knew -- none of which were ever reported. Of these men, 37 percent were found to be onetime offenders. The serial offenders, however, accounted for 91 percent of the admitted acts, averaging nearly six rapes per rapist.

In the end, reporting to some authority -- be that school or police -- is the only surefire route that guarantees action against alleged perpetrators, Davis said.

Another step in breaking the cycle of violence is promoting a willingness to speak up. A cultural shift in which people seek to protect themselves and watch out for behavioral signs of potential offenders (e.g., pushing alcohol, trying to isolate the potential victim, etc.) is key.

"We learned to speak up about smoking and drunk driving," said Laurel McLeod, vice president of Student Life at Colorado College. However, speaking up about a person's decisions about sex or about potential high-risk situations for acquaintance rape is more difficult.

McLeod says a kind of informal buddy system -- in which friends watch out for friends at parties -- could be similar to ensuring the presence of a designated driver at a party so that no one drives home drunk.

For survivors, too, speaking up can be difficult. Jodie, the Colorado College woman who was raped in 2002, chose not to report her rape because of how close she was to the perpetrator and his family. It took her more than two years to find the counseling support she needed. She wants others to be more aware of the available resources, and she sees the willingness of local institutions to do more to address sexual violence as a step in the right direction.

Jodie is not coy about the dangers of keeping silent. "The sooner you get help the better," she said. "The more you raise your voice the better."

* The name of the victim has been changed for her protection.

In addition, they reported they were routinely punished for infractions when they did report an incident.

Amid the ensuing scandal, several high-ranking officials were demoted, dismissed or transferred.

Now, the Academy is currently experimenting with an amnesty program for cadets reporting sexual misconduct. The program began in April 2003, and it received further clarification in March. The policy, which would marry the government's position of mandatory crime reporting with safe reporting avenues for victims of sexual violence, is set to expire in March of 2005 and replaced with the Pentagon's recommendations regarding confidentiality.

Under amnesty, minor infractions of the rules (such as underage drinking, leave without consent or drinking in the dorms) by cadets who report sexual misconduct are overlooked, so that the larger problem of an alleged sexual assault can be addressed.

Beginning this month, the Academy also institutionalized a program for specially trained cadet volunteers to be on call for sexual assault crisis counseling.

Additionally, when an incident is reported to authorities, the Academy Response Team is immediately mobilized to support the victim and answer questions pertaining to the investigation, which is carried out by the Office of Special Investigations investigators.

Colorado College

This fall Colorado College is implementing recommendations made by the school's special Task Force on Sexual Assault, a group that came into existence in September of 2003 after widespread campus dissatisfaction about the existing sexual assault policy. This sentiment culminated in a mass demonstration attended by about 300 people after two alleged incidents of sexual assault took place within the first month of school last year.

The recommendations include formalizing the relationship between the school and TESSA; hiring a legal consultant with specific expertise in sexual assault and sexual misconduct; creating routine on-campus educational opportunities; and hiring a part-time Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), who will serve as a counseling resource, oversee educational activities/training and track cases of sexual misconduct.

"The biggest [change] is that ... the Student Conduct Code will state that active consent must be given," said assistant dean of students Jeff Cathey.

Until now, if you had sex with a passive participant who did not expressively say no, you might escape judiciary charges, Cathey said.

Val Sievers, a SANE at Memorial Hospital and the - statewide SANE coordinator for CCASA. - SUNNIE SACKS
  • Sunnie Sacks
  • Val Sievers, a SANE at Memorial Hospital and the statewide SANE coordinator for CCASA.

The college's policy is broader than the law, which means students can face sanctions from the college for behavior that constitutes sexual misconduct.

The college also has a student-run sexual assault support group called the Victim's Assistance Team (VAT), which operates a crisis hotline for students.

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Since last year, students at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) have had the option of attending a safety awareness presentation titled "Risky Business." The presentation is conducted by one of several specially trained university police officers, as well as a student.

"We talk about everything from responsible dating to predatory drugs," said Steve Linhart, the administrative sergeant with UCCS Public Safety.

Additionally, the school offers a course on date rape awareness and prevention and a 12-hour self-defense course.

Because UCCS is a public institution, reporting an incident of sexual assault at the school is similar to reporting the crime in greater Colorado Springs, dean of students Robert Wonnett said. A survivor should contact the university's police department or the Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) immediately.

Campus police proceed with the investigation if the incident occurred on campus. But if the incident occurred off campus, CSPD has jurisdiction over the case. In either instance, the investigation can lead to both disciplinary and criminal justice hearings.

The school also offers on-campus counseling services. However, unlike Colorado College and the Air Force Academy, UCCS does not currently offer a student-run sexual assault crisis hotline.

--Michael Beckel

Where to go when you need a break

Mountain biking: Cheyenne Cañon

For a quick, grueling hike: Pikes

Peak Incline

20-minute study break: Garden of

the Gods

For West Side Story-esque musical

brawl: the alleyway between Bijou

and Kiowa

Quick fly-fishing trip: Eleven Mile


Day escape outdoors: drive west

Day escape city: Denver's

museums, clubs, tourist districts

Indoor rock climbing: The Sport

Climbing Center

Outdoor rock climbing: Shelf road

-- Matthew Schniper

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