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Nicole Johnson*, a 22-year-old senior at an area university looks back at her college experience as graduation approaches, generally happy with how everything turned out, however, a dark cloud still looms over her freshman year when she was raped.
“I went to a party with a few girls I just met,” Nicole recalls. “I had two beers and felt really drunk and could barely stand up.” After lying down in an empty room in the apartment, Nicole only remembers the moment she woke up. “I passed out and when I woke up there was a guy having sex with me. I woke up in the middle of it.”
Johnson has become a statistic. In America, 1.3 women are raped every minute, 78 every hour, 56,160 every month, and approximently 683,280 women will be sexually assaulted by the end of this year. The attacker could be a perfect stranger or someone she knows, either way creating an emotionally damaging situation.
Legally, one might wonder how sexual assault is defined. According to Massachusetts State law, there are two major categories of sexual assault against adults. One of these is rape, and the other is indecent assault and battery. Rape is defined as “sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse with a person and compels such person to submit by force and against his/her will, or compels such person to submit by threat of bodily injury.” Rape and attempted rape are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The crime of indecent assault and battery occurs when an attacker, has non-consensual physical contact with a person in a sexual manner. This could be any unwarranted physical contact to a person’s private body. This assault is punishable to up to five years in prison.
The majority of sexual assaults are committed against women between the ages of 15 and 25, making college-aged women the group with the highest vulnerability to being assaulted. In fact, according to Kelly Walker from campusspeak.com, and a sexual assault survivor, one in four women will be raped during their college experience. Furthermore, during one’s freshman year, they are at the highest risk time for assault, according to the Northeastern University Police Department.
The Northeastern Police Department has their own web site with an extensive report on sexual assault and its statistics. In 1990, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crimes Act was put into place.
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Because of this act, Northeastern has put the number of all reported sexual assaults on their web site. According to this site, seven rapes occurred during both the years of 2002 and 2001. Prior to that it varied from two to four rapes per year. It is difficult to know the accuracy of this number, as nearly 90% of rapes are never reported.
For the students at Northeastern that do report their cases, there are several services available to them; however, just a few months ago this was not true.
Laura Weiss, a graduate of Columbia University, was hired only six months ago as the “Coordinator of Sexual Assault Services” in the Center for Counseling and Student Development. Before she was hired, there was no specialist assigned to the area of sexual assault.
“The position of coordinator was created last fall,” Weiss said. “From what I understand, this position was created in response to a great deal of pressure from students – specifically SGA and LASO – who felt that the issue of sexual assault on campus was enormous and not getting the attention and resources deserved.”
Although Weiss’ position exists, there is no specific rape crisis center at the university. Her services are based out of the Center for Counseling and Student Development where she does counseling, programming, education, training, and outreach, all related to sexual assault. Other counselors at the center may also work with survivors of sexual assault; however, Weiss is the designated coordinator of sexual assault services.
Typically in one week’s time, Weiss sees about 12 to 15clients for counseling. In addition to these one-on-one sessions, she takes part in many outreach programs that range from educational programs in the residence halls, to instructing RAs on how to handle a situation with a student resident. These outreach programs also include the “Take Back the Night” event recently hosted by the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority at the Northeastern campus.
“Take Back the Night” is an event that has been hosted by the Northeastern chapter of the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority for the past four years. This started out as an international rally and march that is organized in local communities with the purpose of unifying women, men, and children in an awareness of violence against women, children, and families. The event is a collaboration of community and campus and other interested people who want to take a stand against sexual violence. The first "Take Back the Night" in the United States occurred and San Francisco in 1978 and has been happening all over the country ever since.
The keynote speakers at this year’s event were Kelly Walker and her best friend Rebecca Tieder. While in college at the University of West Florida, Walker was sexually assaulted through date rape, and Tieder was there with her through it all. They now use this experience to travel to colleges to talk about ways to protect yourself and those around you from the dangers of sexual assault though date rape.
Date rape can be called many things. It is also known as social rape, silent rape, or acquaintance rape. In these instances, the victim knows the assailant, possibly because they are dating, they are a family member, friend, classmate, or neighbor, or they are just familiar with them in a social context. Out of all rapes reported, around two-thirds of those victims knew their attackers. According to the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, 28% of survivors are raped by their partners, 35% by an acquaintance, 11% by their fathers, and 5% by other relatives.
The most common place for date rape to occur is the home of the assailant or the victim and typically does not involve force by use of a weapon. These situations are also heavily affected by a victim’s intoxication by either alcohol or drugs. The Northeastern Police Department found that alcohol is a factor in over half of all reported cases of sexual assault, usually by both parties. It is even found that the assailant is a frequent user of alcohol and drugs and has an aggressive personality in aspiration of becoming ‘popular.'
Since alcohol is a major factor in rape, the inability to give consent due to intoxication, unconsciousness, or mental impairment also would be classified as non-consensual. Alcohol is not the only thing that can impair a person’s ability to consent. The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center found that rape drugs are used or suspected in over 40% of all sexual assaults, and many times it is impossible to know if they were used or how they were ingested. Two commonly used drugs are GHB, a central nervous system depressant, and flunitrazepam, also known as Roofies, which is a prescription sleep aid only available outside the United States.
Kelly Walker, from the Take Back the Night event, fell victim to date rape as the result of these rape drugs. Her experience was one that many women can relate to. One evening she went to a bar with a guy she was dating, she only had a small amount to drink, but was so drunk she only remembers her date driving her home and going to bed. After that she remembers nothing. The only reason she found out she had had sex was when she discovered she was pregnant a few months later and had no recollection of having sex for at least eight months.
This has been the case for many sexually assaulted women. Through her research, Walker has found that one in every fifteen victims become pregnant, and one in fifteen victims contract a sexually transmitted disease as a result of their attack. Had she not become pregnant, Walker may never have realized she had been raped.
Like Walker, Nicole Johnson’s attack was most likely the result of a rape drug. While Walker has turned her experience into a good thing by advocating and speaking out against the crimes committed against women, Johnson is still in recovery for what happened, not to her, but against her.
After the incident it took a long time for Johnson to face what had happened. Eventually the nightmares and flashbacks got so bad that she couldn’t deal with it alone and that is when she started going to the counseling center at her university. Part of her therapy there was to work up to reporting her attacker; that took two years of counseling. As a result of the length of time between the actual attack and when she reported it, the college could do nothing except inform the attacker that she had reported it.
“I feel like I did it for nothing. Now it’s even worse because he knows that I reported him and nothing was done about it. He gets to finish school and party and be normal, and I have to deal with this everyday,” Johnson said. “I see him all over campus, and even if I don’t see him specifically, I see his friends that know, or I smell his cologne and I am right back to that night.”
Flashbacks to the event are one of the most common emotional reactions to rape. In addition to flashbacks, many victims encounter fear, distrust, anger, loss of control, and guilt. The only way to work through these problems is to get help through counseling, and that is why so many schools have people like Laura Weiss on their staff.
Universities want to help their students and are making strides to speak out against sexual violence. President Richard Freeland of Northeastern has made statements about his dedication to providing “comprehensive crisis intervention, medical, and counseling services that fully respect the confidentiality and rights of the victims and help promote healing and recovery.”
At Northeastern, there are many more programs offered in addition to those for survivors. The University has various prevention programs with hopes of creating awareness of these issues for the entire community. President Freeland and all of the people at Northeastern want to create a safe living and learning environment for the entire community.
The Sexual Violence Prevention Committee at Northeastern is working very hard to combat sexual assault on campus. There are many concerned and professional people at the university who are prepared and willing to help all of those who wish to seek assistance. The university services are available to all members of the campus community regardless of where or when the assault happened.
Laura Weiss asked the group of students present at the "Take Back the Night" event, “Are you a survivor if you go through hell and live to talk about it?” Many didn’t know how to respond, however, many felt that as long as people like Kelly Walker keep telling their stories, and universities make every effort to help the victims, everyone can be a survivor.
*Name changed on request