Henry is a senior law, politics and society and history major and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I know all of the statistics: One in six women and one in 33 men have been the victims of rape or attempted rape. One in four women will be sexually assaulted during her college years.
As my final year at Drake draws to a close, I think of the many times that I have cited these statistics. I have spent nearly four years making rational, statistic-based arguments for the necessity of better resources for victims of sexual assault and better education for the Drake campus on the issue.
After four years, I am done citing statistics. The statistics are staggering, and the widely reported cases of sexual assault at Drake in the last two years force us to confront the troubling reality that sexual assault happens in our small cocoon of a community.
The statistics are true for Drake. I could explain how those statistics numerically project on the Drake student body, but I’m not going to.
Statistics are powerful tools for measuring a problem and tracking progress toward fixing a problem. They alert us to the dimensions of the monster, but they do not identify the monster. Statistics obscure the fact that sexual assault happens to real people. Real people feel pain from this violent invasion of their bodies. Statistics cannot put a human face on the problem of sexual assault. Statistics cannot tell the stories of victims. Statistics cannot express the pain that sexual assault brings.
Only humans can do that.
Victims of sexual assault often live in silence. They feel humiliation and guilt. They may try to separate themselves from their bodies. Their bodies are sites of conflict for them, sources of terror from which they cannot escape. The assault haunts them in their dreams. The most mundane elements of daily life may be triggering. Unable to escape from the memory of the attack, many victims relive their sexual assault repeatedly. Their pain may consume them; however, their guilt prevents them from reaching out to others. Victims often blame themselves for being sexually assaulted. They batter themselves, convinced that if they had done something differently, they would not have been sexually assaulted.
I have witnessed many women confidently and publicly declare that sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, then later abuse themselves in the private domains of their minds for not stopping the attack. Intellectually, the victims know they are not responsible for the terrible crime that other people committed against them. But, emotionally and spiritually, the pain and guilt remain. Ashamed, many victims live in isolation, cut off from the comforts of people they love. The burden of being a victim is nothing short of suffocating.
The resources available to victims at Drake are severely lacking. Some campuses have sexual assault response advocates, trained peers or professionals who respond to the needs of victims through the healing process.
Polk County provides advocates for people who request them, but to use of this service requires already vulnerable victims to reach outside of the insular Drake community.
My experience with Drake’s counseling center is that the counselors are overbooked. The student body has outgrown their available resources. We need more counselors.
My experience with the student body is that the campus supports a culture of victim-blaming. I have sat in many classrooms in which discussions of sexual assault have evolved into speculation about the victim’s actions: “What she was wearing?” “How much did she have to drink?” “What were the decisions she made on the night of the attack?”
We must work together to correct this cultural problem. Victims cannot prevent sexual assault. Only perpetrators have that power. We as a community have to stop living in silence. We have to confront this reality and correct the way we think about sexual assault. We as a campus need to definitively announce that sexual assault will not happen on our campus, and we must live by that announcement.
Unquestionably, Drake is getting better at meeting the needs of victims. The administration is in the process of hiring a professional who will coordinate services for sexual assault victims and education services to change campus culture. When filled, this position will be a tremendous step forward.
Drake also now provides concise guidelines for what students can do if they have been sexually assaulted, and these guidelines are available all over campus.
Still, I think the most important step forward for the campus is the cultural acknowledgement that sexual assault matters. When I started at Drake nearly four year ago, only a select group talked about sexual assault. Today, these conversations are everywhere. Slowly, the culture of silence is beginning to change.
Who to call:
Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline: 1.800.284.7821
Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault: 515.244.7424
Drake Counseling & Health Services: 515.271.3864