If you say anything, you’ll never be anything: breaking the silence about sexual assault on campus

Photo by Austin Lewis/Photo Editor

A Washington Post-Kaiser poll released over the summer reports that one in five women and one in twenty men who have been enrolled in college since 2011 have been sexually assaulted. Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 6.12.19 PM

Additionally, the Association of American Universities released a survey on September 21, echoing the Post-Kaiser poll, finding that over 20 percent of women from 27 major universities nation-wide had been sexually assaulted.

These numbers do not reflect a sudden outbreak of sexual misconduct, but rather a steadily rampant problem on campuses nationwide. So much so, that this horrific truth is described, and almost “normalized,” as the “rape culture.”

Rape should not be routine, rape should not be normal, rape should not be a culture.

Since school started in August, there have been two rapes, one attempt and three sexual assaults reported by MTSU students. Those are just the reported incidents. Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 12.14.11 PM

The Post-Kaiser poll reports that only 71 percent of victims tell anyone after they have been sexually assaulted, and of that 71, only 12 percent told police or campus authorities.

This is a problem not just nationally, but on our campus.

Carolyn Jackson, a licensed clinical social worker with the MTSU counseling center, said the MTSU female students she talks to usually knew their attacker fairly well.

“The people that I’ve met, that have reported sexual assault, usually did know the person in some

way, usually they were just acquaintances,” Jackson noted.

According to the counselor, victims rarely report the assault to legal authorities.

“No one I have ever met with has chosen to report it [sexual assault],” said Jackson. “These young women don’t want to draw attention to themselves and what happened.”

MTSU housed a screening in September of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about campus rape. Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, subjects of the documentary and cofounders of End Rape on Campus, joined the film’s executive producer Ruth Ann Harnisch in a panel discussion about campus rape. 

Subjects of The Hunting Ground, Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, answer questions along with film producer Ruth Ann Harnisch

Clark and Pino, both victims of rape on University of North Carolina’s campus, encouraged the audience of around 400 MTSU students, faculty and alumni to advance the conversation of campus rape.

“Finally, we’re saying ‘rape’ out loud,” Clark said. “But talking about it doesn’t work if we don’t take control of the narrative.”

The conversation surrounding college rape has to be more than saying that is happens. It has to include the detriment to victims’ lives caused by sexual assault. The conversation cannot stop at the attack, because for victims, that is just the beginning.

“He told me ‘If you say anything, you’ll never be anything,’” said Sheila Jo McBryant, an MTSU student and victim of campus rape.

McBryant was an 18-year-old freshman cheerleader at Eastern New Mexico University when she was raped by a college football player, Mike (the name will be used to protect the identity of the alleged assailant) in 1985. Mike had been teasing and flirting with McBryant for a while, and grew angry when she denied his advances.

One day, in McBryant’s first semester on campus, Mike “swiped” all of her rings that she had set on the table at lunch. When she asked for them back, Mike told her she would have to come to his room to get them. McBryant and a friend snuck into the boys’ dorm to meet Mark and retrieve her rings. When she got there, McBryant was told to go inside his room and grab her belongings.

“I could see them on the desk, it wasn’t far in the room,” McBryant said. “Before I could make it to the door, he had pushed out my friend, closed the door and told her that I’d be a while.”

“I screamed and I could hear another guy knocking on the door, telling him to stop,”  McBryant said. “He never answered the door and eventually (the guy outside of the door) left.”

For Mike, the immediate impact was not nearly as severe as the long-term consequences of the attack.

“When I got back to my dorm, I remember a lot of the girls were watching Risky Business,” McBryant said. “I really didn’t know what had just happened.”

Eventually, the reality of the attack sunk-in. Sheila could not take the pressure, knowing that Mike was still on campus, so she dropped out of college, never reporting her rape.

“I knew he was a football player and I knew how things like that go,” McBryant said. “I just didn’t feel comfortable saying anything.”

The same Washington Post-Kaiser poll showed that 71 percent of victims tell someone that something occurred, but only 12 percent report it to the police or university.  

Years later, McBryant is affected by the attack on her family life.

“To this day, we don’t close doors at my house,” McBryant said. “I know that this has affected how I raise my children, but hopefully they’ll know what’s right and not have to go through a bad relationship.”

In 2012, McBryant enrolled at MTSU to pursue a degree in criminal justice and psychology. While on campus, McBryant has volunteered through the June Anderson Center for Women and Nontraditional Students, helping people who have gone through similar events.

“I know that people heal in all different ways, but with rape you have to tell someone,” McBryant said. “If you don’t tell someone, they win. And you want to be a victor, not a victim.”

MTSU offers on-campus counseling and other services through their website http://www.mtsu.edu/sexual-violence/#Victim. If you or someone you know is sexually assaulted, the university asks that you take the matter to the campus police, whether or not you choose to file charges.

McBryant also encourages victims to speak out, not just for themselves, but to prevent future attacks.

“If you stand up, if you say something, you might save the  next person,” McBryant said. “You can choose to tell the campus or the police, but you have got to tell someone so it doesn’t happen again.”

We know it happens. We know it’s wrong. So what now?

At Sidelines, we’re done.

We’re done reading about rape and assault happening in our community, on our campus, to our friends.

So speak up.

If you see someone in a situation that might be threatening, speak up. Just ask, “Are you ok?” “Do you want to do this?” “Haven’t you been drinking?”

If someone comes to you, speak up. Tell them about the campus resources and encourage them to go to the police.

If it happens to you, speak out. Tell the police, get yourself help and don’t let them win. Don’t let yourself become a statistic, don’t let the attack go unpunished. Tell police, campus counselors, a friend or an advisor.

“By speaking up, you’re taking control of something out of your control,” executive producer of “The Hunting Ground” Ruthanne Harnisch said. “By breaking the silence, you help break the trend.”

Graphics provided by the Washington Post-Kaiser study. Source: This Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 15-March 29, 2015, among a random national sample of 1,053 adults age 17 to 26 who are current or recent undergraduate students at a four-year U.S. college since 2011 and lived on or near campus. Surveys were conducted on both conventional and cellular phones. The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS) of Media, Pa. Full results and exact question wording and order is available at www.wapo.st/pollarchive

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To contact News Editor Sarah Grace Taylor, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com 

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    October 22, 2015

    I picked up the september 30th edition of MTSU Sidelines and I would like to express how incredibly impressed I am that you all would choose to highlight rape and rape culture. I have not been a victim, thankfully, but I know a few people who have and I feel very strong about the subject. I do speak up when I hear jokes about sexual assault, I drive people home when they are too intoxicated and want to do things they probably shouldn’t. I try. It’s just really nice to publicly read about others who feel so passionately. So thank you. Thank you for being great people.

    PS- Megan White, EIC, your opening statement in that issue was flawless. Slay.

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