If there’s any one topic deemed a women’s issue that’s dominated the news in recent months, it’s that of sexual assault on campus. Time magazine did a cover story. Columnist George Will pronounced the label of rape victim to be a coveted status. And Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri just this week convened a roundtable discussion of stakeholders, including campus security officials, for input to a legislative remedy.
The attention to the issue reached a crescendo in April when the White House released Not Alone, the report from its Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault. As part of my work as a radio producer, I interviewed White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, who sits on the task force.
With that in mind, a colleague asked me to come by his office to show me a video. Now, politically, we are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Total opposites. But professionally and personally I consider him a friend. Looking at the relationships in Congress and the Senate, we are an anomoly, but, nevertheless it works. The video he wanted me to look at was of Stu Berguiere, Glenn Beck's producer, trying to debunk the White House’s assertion that one in every five college women is sexually assaulted. I would have linked you to the entire video, but you have to pay, and I don't want to put you through that. I cringed as I stood in shock and awe as my coworker laughed through this clip. He thought it was a hilarious and ridiculous statistic.
I was, of course, disheartened. Not that he thought sexual assault was OK (because he didn't), but that he thought the statistic is flawed. These numbers come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The White House didn't make them up. If you don't believe an organization whose main goal is to protect public health and safety, then I don't know what to tell you. But something happened to me while I sat there, wanting to curse at the computer. While watching this clip, while taking note of my colleague’s sheer ignorance, it dawned on me that I am the "one" in the one in five.
Suddenly, I remembered my own sexual assault and rape—parts of my life that I had chosen to completely block out, as if they never happened. I suspect this might be true for a lot of women. I don't know if it was just a repressed memory or dissociative amnesia, but it was some kind of survival mechanism that kept that memory pushed down: Why relive traumatic events in your life over and over again? But at that moment, it all came back to me in full color. So let me tell you my story.
Right now, in Washington, D.C., women wear dresses to nightclubs all the time. But there was a time when that wasn't the case.
In 1999, I was a junior in college. Back then, we were constantly told: "Don't wear a dress to the club, you might get raped." And I used to think, "Come on, no one can rape you in an open club—that's ridiculous, people are all around; someone would notice". But I also recall that everyone heeded that advice.
I went to an off-campus party one time, pants on, and as the party became packed mid-way through the night, a guy who I couldn't see or identify, grabbed my crotch and started fondling it. The room was too packed for me to move. I tried to fight whoever was nearest to me, but I couldn't identify a specific person. I never reported it. The incident happened off-campus and, unable to identify a suspect, who could I have reported it to? Does that mean that because I didn't report it, it didn't happen?
Shortly after I graduated from college, I started talking to a guy I'd met at a conference. He eventually persuaded me to meet up with him, and I obliged. I thought he was nice; we had been talking for a few weeks and established a connection, so I was fine with meeting up with him at a neutral location. But I was wary enough that I didn't want him to know where I lived
On the night we met, he asked if I wanted to take a ride with him. The spontaneous spirit I was at the time said, "Go with it Andrea, just have fun." His "ride" ended up being a ride back to his house. He cooked dinner, so I thought "what a sweet person" (even though it was a cheap first date). After we talked for a while, I told him that I was glad that we finally connected and couldn't wait to do it again, and if he could take me back to my car, I would greatly appreciate it. He refused. I then realized the situation I was in. Now, let me just set the stage.
This is before the age of widespread cell-phone use, so at the time, I had no cell phone. I was a broke, fresh-out-of-college woman who had all of three dollars in her bank account. I didn't know where I was, I was alone, and none of my immediate family knew where I was.
Every thought about girls going missing, women getting killed, getting raped was now going through my mind. Panicked, I try to coerce him to take me back to my car. That doesn't work. He "suggests" that we just go to sleep. I am 5’4”, 120 pounds on a good day. With no way to get out of the situation, I concede, but insist that I will sleep on the couch. He refuses that, too. We talk ad nauseum about the sleeping arrangements until the early morning. I finally relent to sleeping in the bed, because I'm tired, because I have to get up in the morning and go to work, and because underneath it all, I thought: “Andrea you still have a little bit of control in this situation. You may not be able to leave, but you know you aren't going to have sex with him, so it's OK if you just lay down in the same bed. You'll still have all your clothes on.”
But I wasn't in control. I said no several times that night. I'm not going to replay them for you all, but suffice to say, did he rip my clothes and beat me? No. But was it consensual sex? No. I did not physically fight him, but I made it clear several times that at no point in the evening did I want to have sex with him.
People think that you have to be a certain "type" of girl to get assaulted or raped. Or that it always involves alcohol or some type of drug. I was completely sober both times that I was assaulted. I've had very few relationships. I've often heard men discuss women getting raped, saying something like, "Well, what was she doing?" I can tell you right now, she didn't have to be doing anything.
The next morning, having gotten what he wanted, he thought we were starting a relationship. I never wanted to see his face again. I remember the next day, my sister, who was my roommate at the time, yelling at me for not telling her where I had gone. I didn't know how I could have gotten myself in the situation I was in the night before.
President Barack Obama signs the Campus Sexual Assault Presidential Memorandum during a White House Council on Women and Girls meeting in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 22, 2014.
I never reported any of these incidents of assault. I never wanted to. Like I said earlier, I had really blocked them out of my mind. I remember addressing the subject of sexual assault on the radio program that I produce, when a colleague of mine asked me had I ever been raped. I said no. Selective amnesia, I guess.
Wikipedia classifies an incidence such as the one I endured as acquaintance rape. I say rape is rape, no matter if the instance is forceful or not, no matter if it includes drugs, alcohol, or none at all. Forced rape, date rape, acquaintance rape, or non-consensual sex; They are all he same. In a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease control of a nationally representative survey of adults, 37.4 percent of female rape victims said they were first raped between ages eighteen and twenty-four.In a study of undergraduate women, 19 percent experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college. One in five.
This isn't about the victims. Let me repeat. THIS ISN'T ABOUT THE VICTIMS. This is about one person exerting his power and control over another. We need to change the mindset behind it in order to change the behavior. I will admit I never knew what it was until it happened to me. I, like my co-worker, didn't believe that a woman could get assaulted by going on a date with a guy that you liked: I mean c'mon, you liked the person a little bit, so how could it really be classified as assault if you had feelings for the person?
So, to my co-worker who thinks that the statistic for sexual assault and rape is ridiculous, I implore him to challenge his ignorance. No one walks around saying, I've been raped, I've been sexually assaulted. Women don't carry a badge on their clothing that says rape victim, sexual assault victim. But believe me, it happens at more alarming rates than men want to believe.
I am glad the White House is tackling sexual assault in colleges, and yes, I have no doubt that the statistic is correct. One in five women will be sexually assaulted in college. Is that alarming? I hope so. Because something needs to be done to eradicate the mindset of dominance and control over women's bodies. I know, because I am the one in the one in five.