It doesn’t matter who you are. When it comes to sexual violence, the statistics show that anyone can be victimized.
You could be a victim of sexual assault. It could happen to your best friend. Your roommate. Your significant other. Your cousin. Your aunt. Your next door neighbor. Even one of your own parents. Those suffering in the aftermath of this callous crime are all around you.
They’ve lost the ability to ever feel completely safe. They go about their day always anticipating traumatic reminders. They may feel triggered by everyday words. Harmless situations and innocuous touches can bring all the feelings of their experience back. They may be frightened to dress scantily for a night out. They leave their apartment in constant fear of seeing their assailant. Instead of jaunting home with their earbuds in, blasting their favorite song, they stay alert and look over their shoulder. These are real and valid reactions. Survivors’ trust is shattered the moment they’re taken advantage of, and their lives are never truly the same.
Even though 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, sexual assault and rape remain the least reported of all violent crimes. This issue spreads across every demographic, and affects some groups of people more than others. Nearly half of all people with intellectual disabilities will experience 10 or more sexually abusive incidents in their lifetime. African American women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35 percent higher than white women, and about 2.5 times the rate of women of other races. 41 to 60 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander women report experiencing some type of domestic violence in their lifetime. Some reports estimate that up to 66 percent of transgender people experience sexual assault.
It doesn’t matter your age, income level, gender identity, race or sexual orientation. When it comes to sexual violence, the statistics clearly show that everyone is at risk.
The stories of those who have been attacked are numerous, and each as appalling as the last. Brave survivors have generously shared their stories with me for you to read. These recollections of sexual assault are depressing, but incredibly important in understanding how vulnerable these victims felt, the effect it had on their lives, and how it could have easily been someone you know. I have seen in these stories pieces that relate to my own. The naive view of the world before the attack, followed by the initial shock of the assault, coupled by the sad acceptance of its occurrence, and the aftermath of a daily struggle leftover. These stories could also just as easily be yours. These events could happen to any one of us and it is important to recognize their relevance across all identities.
Michaela, 22 at age of assault, female
“Friday the 13th, January 2017. In my own bed with someone I considered one of my best friends at the time. I was drinking, he was not. A bottle of whiskey made him think I was fair game. I wanted to die.”
“November 11th 2012. Less than five months after I graduated high school. In my friend’s dorm room. The incident has plagued my life with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Samantha, 22 at age of assault, female
“What turned into confiding in the police as a safe haven, quickly turned into an unpredicted nightmare. My rapist was a police officer. He had the upper hand. He was automatically deemed the honest one while I was considered a liar. I was interrogated, questioned, emotionally torn apart and treated like a criminal. I was the victim in the situation, yet, somehow, I was the one being tracked down at work and harassed with phone calls. I felt too scared to confide in my friends. I felt too nervous to leave my apartment, but also too frightened to stay there alone. As the victim, I needed to get a lawyer to protect myself from the police who were supposed to protect me.”
TK, 12 at age of assault, female
“From 1996 to 1997. In the middle of the desert. My boyfriend and his brothers. They hurt me whenever they wished for nine months. My boyfriend and his twin were 15 with their older brother being 17. I was only 12. I felt cold, alone, and worthless. But I also somehow felt guilty, like the situation was all my fault. They got me pregnant, but I lost the baby. They left me alone after that.”
Lexi, 16 at age of first assault, female
“I was 16 at the time of my assault. I thought since it wasn’t technically rape, I couldn’t do anything about it. I didn’t tell anyone for 6 months. When I turned 17, I was assaulted again on Easter by a guy I had been friends with since the third grade. It happened right up the street in a park I can never go to again.”
“I was a middle-aged college professor, married and six months pregnant. My assault occurred during a prenatal appointment at one of the largest and most powerful medical clinics in the Midwest. It felt like an out-of-body experience. I was in a professional space that should have been safe. I was in disbelief and terrified he would hurt my baby. It felt both like time was moving rapidly, but that it also slowed to a crawl.”
Anonymous, 16 at age of assault, male
“I was raped by two college-aged men around 3 a.m. Each took his turn and was coercive. I was pulled by my arm and left in complete shock. I went into full survival mode. I was terrified and agonizing for it to end. I’ve since forgotten what happened towards the end, which I’m okay with. My chance to leave was after they left for classes. I had been 16 for about a month when the assault occurred and I did not deal with it until 39 years later after struggling with 16 years worth of anxiety and depression. It was finally explained to me that it wasn’t my fault.”
Alex, 20 at age of assault, female
“I laid powerless, locked in a room in more ways than one. The walls were covered in pictures of himself, no matter where I turned, I couldn’t escape his face. My screams filled the empty apartment, echoing, reminding me that I was alone.”
Katrina, 18 at age of assault
Homecoming day. It was two weeks into our relationship when he pulled me into the other room. It started out fun, a tryst in the dark, secluded from the mess of a party nearby, but with alcohol, the coin flipped. “Stop.” “Please stop.” I ran to the bathroom mirror and turned on the light. Bruises. Scrapes. Blood. Sudden purple, red, and blue where my tanned skin was supposed to be. He was quick to follow. Then I was on the floor. Then back in the bed. Everything was a continuous stream again. Pure adrenaline got me up, got my clothes back on, got me home. But there was no way it could have all happened. I wasn’t assaulted, or raped, or compromised, or whatever, I was with my boyfriend and he just drank a little too much. Nothing out of the ordinary. Fast forward to Homecoming day again. I woke up to him knocking on my unlocked apartment door. He came in and immediately pushed me into my bed. Tried to take my clothes off and touch me. I asked him to stop and pushed him off me. He yelled at me for resisting what he wanted. Scolded me for not giving enough as a partner. Threw my things on the ground and walked out. He heard me call a friend, so he grabbed my phone and threw it against the wall and left. Too terrified to see him in person, I called him. I finally heard the words. “You are mine because you are my girlfriend, and I have a right to your body.” I dropped my phone. I couldn’t believe it. After the breakup, I found myself looking in the mirror at a person I didn’t know. I was living a strange alternative reality where I had no confidence, no voice, and not a speck of love in my body. I was finally diagnosed with PTSD, and spent six months in therapy. I realized the depth of what I was ignoring, and instead of resisting or running away, I started to listen and try to learn from it. It’s a nonlinear process, with lots of frustration and reinvention.
If you or someone you know is seeking help in relation to sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking, or sexual harassment, the Aurora Center is an incredible resource serving those affiliated with both the University of Minnesota and Augsburg University. After an incident in March of 1986 involving three university athletes, the Aurora Center was brought into existence that July and has been providing their services, partnership, and education ever since. Along with walk-in appointments at their office in Appleby Hall from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and the 24-hour helpline that can be reached at 612-626-9111, the center also facilitates support groups for sexual assault survivors, male-identified survivors, and those healing from relationship trauma as well as vying for accommodations for the individual affected and offering support during a potential reporting process. If you have experienced a form of sexual assault and are searching for a free and confidential advocate to confide in, the Aurora Center is available to assist you.
The Aurora Center is an invaluable resource for those that have experience unspeakable trauma. It relies on a network of volunteers to satisfy the demand for its services. Fund Aurora is a student-led initiative to raise money for The Aurora Center while starting a meaningful dialogue around sexual assault on campus. Fund Aurora 2018 kicks off on April 15th.