Freshman Safety Series: What you need to know about sexual assault

Photo by Samantha Hearn/Sidelines Archive 

Every year, freshmen flood college and university campuses expecting to have the time of their life, many unaware of the danger they are in. Preparedness is a word of contention when speaking of sexual assault and rape. It could be argued that we all in some way anticipate bad things to happen to us. However, no one ever asks to be assaulted or brings it on themselves. The responsibility of sexual assault lies with the one who did the wrong and made the choice to take advantage of someone else.

Any student can be sexually assaulted at any time in the college career, but research has shown that 50 percent of sexual assaults occur in August, September, October and November. This proclaimed “red zone” is the period of time in which students, mostly female, are most at risk to be assaulted. Organizations like RAINN have found that female students from the ages 18-24 are less likely to report an assault then the non-student females in their age group. The high number of unreported sexual assaults can be linked to a lack of education and knowledge on what is and isn’t rape.

They say it wasn’t sexual assault. Was it?

Partners can cross boundaries and force you into situations too soon, but an unwanted advance can also come from someone else you know. Acquaintance rape, the most common form of sexual assault there is, is the cause of three out of four rapes. And force does not always mean physical action. Force can be emotional or psychological manipulation meant to groom a person into a place where he or she has difficulty seeing the boundaries of the relationship, making them easier for the perpetrator to cross. If your experience matches any of the following, than what you experienced was most likely sexual assault:

  • If you were in any way unconscious or unable to give consent at the time, it was assault.
  • If you experienced the third reaction of fight or flight, which is freeze, it was assault.
  • If you felt uncomfortable during the encounter and tried to stop it, it was assault.
  • If you outright said “No” at any time, it was assault.
  • If you gave nonverbal signals that you did not want the encounter, it was assault.
  • If you clearly did not want to have sex during the encounter, it was assault.
  • If you felt pressured in any way, this was a form of assault.

I was just assaulted. What should I do now?

The most important thing to do is contacting someone. If a phone is available, you should call a friend, family member or 911. This ensures that you are not alone and that you can be taken to safety. If your phone is not available, seeking out the nearest business to take shelter in is the next safest option. If you are on campus during the day, it is a good first step to go to MTSU Health Services in the Rec Center and seek medical attention. If you are not yet sure whether you wish to alert medical professionals, the June Anderson Center for Women and Nontraditional Students is also a place that offers support for rape survivors. To report an assault, you can visit the campus police building on East Main Street across from the Cope Administration Building. You can always submit a report online here if you wish to be completely anonymous, and you are encouraged to report the assault to judicial affairs and speak to MTSU’s Title IX Coordinator, Marian Wilson. MTSU’s Sexual Violence Resources page offers a helpful list of medical facilities, places of support and law enforcement offices that extend to the Nashville metro area.

Do I have to go to a hospital or report my assault?

No, you do not have to do anything you are not comfortable with. That being said, visiting a clinic and getting assistance from medical staff does not mean you have to talk to law enforcement. One thing that makes rape survivors concerned about getting help is the thought of being forced to talk about what happened and undergo an examination. While nurses and doctors will encourage you to have a rape kit done, they cannot force you to. You will still be offered medication to prevent infection, STDs and unwanted pregnancy, and may even have other injuries that you are unaware. Not all sexual assault is rape, which is typically defined as penetrative assault, so there may not be a need for a full rape kit. If you are willing, a kit of DNA samples and evidence will be collected and stored in the event you wish to pursue your case. At this point, it is still your decision to either move forward or decline to make a statement.

Was it rape even if I didn’t say “No”?

Consent is always retractable. You are allowed to say “No” even after saying “Yes” to a sexual encounter. Refusing a sexual encounter because you felt uncomfortable or decided that it was not something you wanted only makes you a mature adult who knows the importance of consent. When having sex, both parties must be aware of what is happening and be in tune to their partners needs. Men or women can become rapists if they ignore even the verbal or nonverbal signs that their partner sends. Offenders will try to justify their actions by saying that their “partner” did not say “No”, therefore assuming that they meant “Yes.”

Do I want my rapist to go to jail?

A rapist’s well-being is never more important than the impact on the person they assaulted. Since many survivors know their abuser, there is often a fear of reprisal if the rapist is someone whom you may be forced to be in contact with on a regular basis. It is important to judicial affairs and seek an order of no contact between you and the individual. Filing for a restraining order is also a key step. Ultimately, you should put your safety and your happiness over the fear that a report and the knowledge of your assault will somehow negatively impact the way people perceive or treat you. If you lack a strong support system, find other survivors like you and build trust and bonds with people who have had similar experiences by visiting support groups. Don’t minimize or trivialize what happened to you because you are afraid that no one will think it is important, or that no one will support you.

What if I didn’t report the assault immediately?

Many survivors choose not to report the case to law enforcement, even if they have undergone a rape kit at a hospital. A survivor holds the power to either pursue their rapist legally or not. That is a personal decision he or she must make on their own terms, pressured by no one. It is always a conscientious decision to have a medical professional perform a rape kit, but the decision to not have one done does not mean that a rape survivor is giving up their ability to pursue their case. Not having a rape kit is a loss of physical evidence that can be used to put a rapist away. It is not in any way an admission of falsity on the survivors part. It is not the difference between a winning or losing case. Some survivors do not come forward and tell their story until years after the abuse occurred. Their experience is no less valid or believable than someone who reports the assault immediately.

For more information on how MTSU handles sexual violence, visit here.

This is part one of the four-part Freshman Safety Series by Digital Editor Sara Snoddy. The series addresses the issues of sexual assault, mental health issues/suicide prevention, drug abuse and gun safety with special consideration to incoming freshman and transfer students.

Follow Sara Snoddy on Twitter at @Sara_Snoddy.

For more news, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.

To contact News Editor Amanda Freuler, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

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