I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the secrets I’ve been keeping.
I remember a night when a childhood friend came over and we drank until we danced and she told me she had been raped while we were in high school at the same park I went to for picnics as a child.
I’ve realized our hometowns have been keeping secrets, too.
There was a recent Washington Post article in which a young teen’s violent rape was turned into a nasty urban legend and used to vilify her as a “whore” and run her out of town. What stood out to me was the way this girl’s horrific story was bastardized by her hometown into a taunt: FAITH, which stood for “F--- Amber in three holes.”
Every hometown hears whispers like that. Young women who make allegations of sexual assault in sleepy suburbs aren’t just doubted, they’re hated.
And our colleges don’t even bother to whisper.
Sexual indiscretions were indeed shouted by Yale fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon, which was banned in 2011 when pledges stood outside the University’s Women’s Center and shouted “No means yes, yes means anal.” After the ban ended, the president of the fraternity in the 2016-2017 school year was found to have raped a woman that same year.
Secrets about sexual violence become whispers and urban legends, which then become shouts.
So when do we finally listen?
I want you to think about the secrets you have kept. Have you ever kept a secret about an assault?
More than 50 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses occur in fall and a majority of those assaults happen to first-year students. Major Steve Rittereiser of the UW Police Department told me, "Statistically, the first six weeks of school are the most dangerous." Freshman move-in was last week. Has it happened to you?
Do you go to parties at houses where you’ve heard other women have been assaulted?
Does your fraternity keep a “body count”? Do you brag about sex like it’s a conquest?
We’ve all heard rumors about guys who seem a little “rapey” so girls are warned to stay clear of him. But was the whisper about your friend?
Have you ever assaulted someone?
Rape culture isn’t just rape, it’s complicity. This leads us to some difficult conversations about consent and assault.
“You don’t have to make sure someone is consenting because you know if they are or not,” Victoria Adams, crime advocate for the UW Police Department, told me.
In other words, it’s not hard to tell when someone isn’t into something. The issue arises when someone isn’t into something and the other person doesn’t stop to take notice or doesn’t care.
“Sexual assault is about power and control and it’s done because somebody goes out and they want to commit assault,” Adams said. She told me we should ask ourselves why we have sex.
This is why questions surround what exactly consent is, who should get consent and who should give it, are hard to answer.
If consent is something you give, then can’t it be taken? Ideally, power dynamics are balanced and there’s nothing to be given nor taken in sex.
But in reality, just saying “yes” or “no” can be complicated. Adams sees campaigns such as “Yes Means Yes” as problematic because even “yes” can be uttered under duress or force. Enthusiastic consent puts a bandaid on a cultural issue. Have you ever wanted to say “no” to someone who asked for your number but didn’t? Did you give them a fake number or lie and tell them you’re in a relationship? Were you afraid they’d retaliate if you said no?
I’m not sure if I even said “no.”
When it happened to me, it took me months to be able to say I was finger-raped. A man at a party kept reaching his hand into my leggings and I kept pulling it back out. Eventually, he stuck it inside of me. Eventually, I succeeded in pushing him off. I grabbed my friends and we left.
I had no idea what to do or how to react. And when I began to ask my female friends about sexual violence, I realized I had reacted very typically. I hadn’t actually been raped, so like many women, I decided what happened to me wasn’t that bad.
Victims should focus on healing.
I did not focus on healing. I focused on moving on, which really just meant suppressing my emotions. I didn’t let myself feel what I was feeling.
Victims should acknowledge their feelings.
I regret how I handled my assault, but I can’t blame myself for not knowing what to do. But victims should know what they can do.
I thought because I wasn’t bleeding, I shouldn’t go to a hospital. I thought because I hadn’t been raped, I shouldn’t go to the police. I wasn’t hurt. But according to Adams, you can go to a hospital and you can go to the police. You can even call 911 the next day. Tell them you’re not in immediate danger and then tell them you were assaulted, and they will transfer you to resources on sexual violence.
At a hospital, you can get a forensic exam for any kind of assault. You don’t need to report your assault to the police, but you can. Adams told me almost every victim she has worked with who has filed a report was happy they did. If you’re not sure you want to report your assault, speak with a victim advocate first.
If you are sexually assaulted, you are not alone.
As of Thursday, September 20th, Rittereiser and the UWPD crime log confirmed that there have been no police reports on sexual assault in the last week. As of Monday, September 24th, the crime log has remain unchanged since last Thursday and Rittereiser could not be reached immediately to confirm whether or not any sexual assaults were reported to the UWPD in the weekend before fall quarter begins.
Reach Wellness Editor Manisha Jha at email@example.com. Twitter: @manishajha_