One in four. One in every four women will be a victim of sexual assault or rape by the end of her college career. I can barely wrap my mind around this staggering statistic. That is nearly one quarter of the female population. This means that if you have a sister, a cousin, a friend, a girl friend, an aunt, a godmother, a teacher, there is a twenty-five percent chance that she has been/will be a victim of sexual assault or rape.
This is an epidemic. An epidemic that we are FINALLY talking about. Just six years ago, when I started college in September of 2009, there were only 5 members (all girls) in the Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) group at Emory. It was the first time in my life where I felt safe talking about my own experiences as a survivor. It took me years to come to terms with what happened to me, to finally stop blaming myself and to learn that my abuse did not define who I am as a person. By the end of my college career, I was president of ASAP, we had just under one thousand student body members and the number of people attending each of our events was mind boggling. I left college knowing that I had helped others and made Emory a better place than I had found it.
The topic of widespread sexual abuse, especially on college campuses, was never really broached in the mainstream media until very recently. I remember when my group had made posters with sexual assault statistics, (gathered from RAINN) written on them and we posted them in every building on campus. In retaliation, Emory had the janitors tear the signs down because they “didn’t want to scare potential students”. I went to a disciplinary hearing for my actions, but now, I think they would have called me a hero. Oh, how the tides have turned.
The Hunting Ground, which first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year, is arguably the most important documentary that everyone, especially college-bound students, needs to watch. It is eye opening and heart wrenching. These brave men and women who disclose their stories are true heroes. Their strength to fight the pervasive victim-blaming society that we live in is refreshing and monumental. If you think that our society doesn’t blame the victim, then read the unbiased cases against Ben Roethlisberger, Darren Sharper, Bill Cosby and especially Jameis Winston. In each of these cases, the women were cast in negative light by the mainstream media, the women were portrayed as gold-diggers and their stories were not taken seriously, at least not at first.
The truth is that survivors have been systematically shamed by our society. Instead of asking, “Are you okay?” or “How can I help you?”, the first question usually is, “What were you wearing?”. It’s as if you were somehow asking for it. No. It should never be about your clothing or how much you had to drink. It should be that your body was violated and that the criminal justice system will bring your perpetrator to justice. As I used to tell people at Emory, “You could be running around butt-ass naked and it does not give someone else the right to touch you.”
Did you know that out of the reported rape cases, 98% of rapists will never see their day in court? Now please do not start thinking that I am a man-hater or that I think all men are rapists. No. First of all, I am married to a man, I enjoyed partying at his fraternity while I was in college and the majority of my friends happen to be male. What I believe is that it is a very small percentage of the male population that actually commits these heinous crimes, and they often do it more than once. Because of the low reporting numbers, rapists are able to get away with their crimes and feel free to do it again.
The Hunting Ground is amazing for allowing these men and women a platform to openly talk about what happened to them, to empower other survivors and actually prove that societal change can happen. This movie helps to shatter the notion that “Sexual assault doesn’t affect me”, because it actually does. This epidemic affects each of us, whether you’re aware or not, and it is now our time to take a stand for every survivor, to give a voice to every victim too ashamed or scared to come forward and to invoke change in our country so that every person is believed from the very start.
Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any comments/concerns or just need to talk to someone.
Statistics Reported from RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network). https://rainn.org/
Also watch videos on Project Unspoken, which I was a part of during my time at Emory https://www.youtube.com/user/ProjectUnspoken