By Ally Lopez > Senior > Journalism > University of Maryland, College Park; Photo by Arsh Raziuddin > Sophomore > Graphic Design > UMBC
Though often overlooked, sexual assault is unfortunately all too common in college life. The statistics for young women in particular are unsettling: 1 in 4 will be a victim during her academic career. It could be your sorority sister, teammate, or classmate; because there are various social determinants for these acts of violence, sexual assault has no limits to those it affects.
For Michelle*, a 22-year-old student, campus life has been marred by painful experience of sexual assault during her sophomore year. “I was tailgating all morning and afternoon with friends at the homecoming football game … I felt safe with those around me and didn’t have a cap on my drinking limit that day,” she said, in hindsight.
But after an eventful day of fun, her situation quickly went from exuberance to distressing when she met up with an acquaintance from class. “I didn’t know him all that well but he seemed nice enough to hang around with at our mutual friend’s party,” she said. After mistaking his advances towards her for only playful flirtation, Michelle had a peculiar feeling about him: though she recalls having turned down his offer for a date a few weeks prior, she had thought nothing of his behavior. “I politely told him that I had a boyfriend, but I would love to continue a friendship with him and that didn’t seem to faze him at all,” she said.
For many students, college presents more freedom and less restriction than that to which they have been accustomed during high school, particularly with alcohol. 74% of perpetrators and 55% of victims had been drinking alcohol prior to sexual attacks, and in Michelle’s situation, alcohol was heavily involved.
“They seemed to be having fun, no different from anyone else there that night,” recalled Alex, Michelle’s twin sister, of her interaction with the male acquaintance. “After a few hours, [Michelle] disappeared but I didn’t think anything of it. I just figured she would text or call if she planned on going home early.”
But Alex couldn’t see that the situation was anything but fun: “One minute we were playing beer pong and laughing hysterically, the next, I was alone with him in the kitchen trying to pry his hands off of me,” Michelle described. With the party going on outside, they were the only two in the house. She described turning her head away when her classmate attempted to kiss her and reminding him that she had a boyfriend. He then became enraged, grabbed her face for a kiss, and roughly pushed her into a refrigerator – bringing Michelle to a defenseless point where she “couldn’t even move or scream.”
“I remember being so scared … he was running his hands up my dress and grabbing my breasts so hard that his nails dug into my skin. To this day, I just get shivers even talking about it,” she added. Michelle eventually mustered the courage and strength to escape from under his arms and run away.
Michelle said that after the attack, she was in such a state of disbelief that she couldn’t bring herself to cry. “I immediately called my sister and I honestly didn’t know what to do from there.” Left with the feelings of “being violated, completely embarrassed and utter disgust,” Michelle initially had no intention of reporting her perpetrator to police or school officials.
A variety of factors can influence an individual’s reaction to, and ultimately, the recovery from, an act of sexual violence, including an education on campus resources and programs for victims and friends of victims. She said she turned to her campus’s health center for testing, counseling, and advice. She said her campus resources were “a huge source of support,” since she didn’t feel she could speak about her situation to family and friends, as well as an instrument in her recovery.
If you believe that you have been the victim of a sexual crime, please know that you are not alone, and help is available.
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) - National Sexual Assault Hotline
Phone: (800) 656-HOPE (4613)
Web site: www.rainn.org
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
*The victim’s name has been changed for safety and privacy reasons.