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ISSUE 119 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/10/2006

No cause for complacency on campus rape

By Sara Perelli-Minetti
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 10, 2006

A few weekends ago I was happily bobbing along in “the bubble,” chatting with a friend at a party. I mentioned a particular male friend I had been with the previous weekend. The girl I was chatting with abruptly stopped responding. With a dead look on her face, she quietly said, “You know, he raped me a few weeks ago.”

After comforting my friend, I immediately inquired as to what action she planned to take. “Nothing. I’m not going to do anything. I’ve been date-raped twice on this campus already and I honestly don’t think reporting it is going to make any difference,” she said. “Besides, we have tons of mutual friends and I don’t want to make things any more awkward than they already are.”

St. Olaf, it is time to wake up. This kind of incident happens far more than any of us in “the bubble” would like to believe or to acknowledge.

Over the past week, I have spoken with several survivors of date rape. None of these women has chosen to report their stories, although they do accept that what happened was rape. Why?

After interviews with Dean of Students Greg Kneser, Sexual Assault Resources Network [SARN] co-chair Katie Jadin ‘07, SARN advocate Lauren Leeds ‘07 and multiple survivors, the common thread appears to be a discrepancy between the perception of reporting acquaintance rape, versus how it is actually handled.

One thing that arose continually in my interviews was the role of alcohol in the rape. Nationally, 90 percent of college acquaintance rapes involve alcohol. Kneser informed me that he has seen one case reported in his 17 years of working at St. Olaf where alcohol was not involved for either party.

When alcohol is involved, the survivor often questions whether or not what occurred was really rape. Even more commonly, the survivor believes that they do not have a case since he or she was intoxicated.

I learned from several survivors I spoke with that one of the reasons they declined to report their cases was the fact that they feared a reprimand or judgment from the administration because they were drinking.

But the reality is that the school is well aware of the role of alcohol in sexual assault cases. Kneser said that a student reporting such a case would never be punished for drinking – the main issue is that the assault took place, and that is what the administration would address.

A fear of perceived red tape and of the “bureaucracy of deans” also scares survivors into not reporting. Both Jadin and Kneser stressed that this notion is false. Kneser said that he sees the process of filing a report as a means to provide “a well-lit tunnel” through which a survivor can see his or her options and decide what kind of action should be taken from there.

“We try to make things as simple as possible for the survivor,” Kneser said. “But the best route to take is to go to a confidential source from the start.”

Confidential sources on campus include SARN, the pastor’s office, and the Counseling Center. By going to one of these sources first, a survivor ensures his or her right to be protected with anonymity and to be provided with emotional support regarding whatever action he or she chooses to take.

“SARN provides the tools for survivors to make informed decisions,” Jadin said. “No one should ever have to go through something like this alone, so we do our best to provide support and encouragement where it is needed. We never push people to report – it is up to the survivor as to what action is taken.”

If a survivor does make the choice to report his or her story to the administration, he or she is accompanied by a trained SARN advocate in every step of the process. The advocate is there to provide emotional support as well as to make the process as easy as possible for the survivor.

And if a survivor does go to SARN but is hesitant to file a report, a “what if” meeting can take place in which the advocate, survivor and a dean discuss possible outcomes of the case.

Although alcohol and general fear of the process are major factors in many St. Olaf survivors’ decision not to report their cases, perhaps the greatest, and most relevant, factor of all is the fear of what social consequences might occur if they do. Acquaintance rape is an extremely complicated thing because it often involves entire groups of friends, not just two individuals.

Survivors are afraid of how their friends might react: Will they be believed or not? Will they be told that they are ruining the other person’s life? Are their mutual friends going to take sides? Will this completely destroy their reputations? Will they forever be seen as “dirty”? The survivors with whom I spoke said that they would rather try to cope by themselves than create something which they perceive will be a mess amongst friends.

It is a natural response for a survivor to be extremely concerned as to whether or not friends will support him or her, but this is unacceptable.

Although some survivors feel like they can cope with something like acquaintance rape by themselves because they are not even sure if what happened to them was rape at all, the fact remains that they will need to tell someone.

This is where SARN comes in. We are incredibly lucky to have a resource like SARN: It provides a completely unbiased, non-judgmental, anonymous and confidential outlet for survivors.

Your story will be heard, you will be listened to, and ultimately, you will be able to make an informed decision that will help you regain a sense of control, because what is rape other than the ultimate removal of control?

Passive post-rape behavior is a very common occurrence on college campuses, but it does not have to be. Talking to a confidential source, which is most easily done by calling the SARN hotline, is a step that will help the survivor begin the road to recovery, because in the end, the survivor’s mental well-being regarding the situation is of utmost importance.

As for reporting the incident, Kneser said, “It’s not going to be comfortable – reliving such an experience never is. But it’s not going to be any less comfortable than seeing this person every day, having him or her in a class. Ultimately the long term outcomes of reporting far outweigh the initial discomfort a survivor may have.”

By reporting, a survivor can regain control over his or her situation. If he or she so desires, his or her assaulter can be removed from the residence halls, prevented from having contact, and likewise not allowed to have a class with them.

When addressing a case, Kneser said that the final decision is always based on what the survivor wants, and that both sides are always weighed very carefully. “It’s never as simple as ‘he said, she said,’” Kneser said.

Survivors: Know that you are not alone in this – SARN and other resources are there when your friends cannot always be.

Friends of survivors: Try to be as understanding and supportive as possible, no matter what decision your friend makes.

To those who think they do not know any survivors: You probably do. One in four women is sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. If you have any female friends, chances are one of them has been affected by sexual assault.

Acquaintance rape on college campuses is a national epidemic, and St. Olaf is certainly not unaffected by it. It is our job as responsible citizens of this community to stop a friend from going off alone with someone when he or she is intoxicated.

It is our responsibility to be aware of situations that could potentially lead to sexual assault, and to do everything in our power to prevent them. It is our role as caring individuals to be supportive of survivors.

But ultimately, it is our responsibility to acknowledge that sexual assault, specifically acquaintance rape, is happening right here, at St. Olaf, and that we need to do all that is in our power to send the message that this is unacceptable.

Staff writer Sara Perelli-Minetti is a junior from Greenwich, Conn. She majors in English.

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