Oct 21st, 2017, 01:30 PM

Let's Talk About Sexual Assault

By Katerina McGrath
Image credit: Flickr/Hossam el-Hamalawy
AUP students speak up about sexual abuse.

The topic of sexual assault has taken media outlets by storm these past two weeks following the reports of Harry Weinstein's sexual aggression towards women and his billion-dollar settlements which kept them quiet until now. The allegations came from various women in the film industry and occurred over the span of more than 20 years. Weinstein used his position as a studio executive to overpower young women, and those who witnessed it kept it to themselves in fear of losing their jobs. However, it doesn't merely occur in celebrity cases—many of the people around us remain quiet in fear of negative attention, a violent backlash from an attacker, or self-blame. I spoke to four anonymous AUP students who've been brave in sharing personal experiences of sexual harassment and abuse, and how they've processed them.

Acknowledging how common harassment and assaults are in our society keeps us from separating these highly publicized, celebrity stories from what happens to the people around us. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Worldwide, about 1 in 3 women have experienced some form of sexual violence, and 14% of reported rapes are male victims. Harassment or assault can be everything from verbal harassment to physical and vulgar experiences such as a "slap on the bum," "boobs grabbed" or "vagina grabbed.” Cat-calling is something that is easily dismissed as a 'compliment' from the male sex or is not taken seriously as a form of harassment.

Toxic masculinity, a term for referencing "the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender as violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive...," encourages a culture of men attempting to extract reactions from women. "I've had guys cat-call me since I was 12 years old," one student admitted, "since I was old enough to have breasts." Assault in the age group 12-17 accounts for 15% of all sexual assaults, but sexual assault in early years is difficult to comprehend and therefore, isn't always reported or acknowledged as an assault. One student described her 12-year-old friend's rape story of how a 16-year-old friend raped her and afterward felt inclined to spread the word: "She said ‘no, no, we never had sex’ because she wasn’t conscious. She was asleep." The friend tried to speak up, but, "People would say things like ‘why is she so special that he would do that to her, what would make him want to rape her?’"


Image credit: RAINN

Discussions of sexual assault and harassment typically follow the stereotypical narrative of an attack by a stranger, but usually, an acquaintance commits the majority of sexual assaults. Most of the students interviewed had experiences that dealt with friends who, "have said sexual things towards [them]," but was then brushed off as a joke. Some students' assault was committed by someone they knew, which ranged from close friends to older men.  At 15, one student's friend left her in a room with the older brother after smoking marijuana: "He took advantage of me."

In her sophomore year of high school, at age 16, another student went through an attempted attack: "One of [her] best guy friends" threw a big party in the parents' empty warehouse. She had been drinking heavily with her friends and enjoying her time until her sober male friend pulled her to the back of the warehouse, in an empty aisle "where no one could be heard." She explains, "He laid me down on the cold, linoleum floor (...) I started yelling ‘No, no, please stop.'" Luckily, a friend noticed her missing, heard her voice, and ran to her aid. She didn't have time to be upset about it, because "a bunch of [her] friends accused [her] of ruining the party.”

Across the board, responses claimed that knowing the attacker "added a weird dynamic" to the assault. The prospect of seeing your attacker frequently increases the fear of speaking out: "I felt like I couldn’t ‘out’ [my attacker] for what had happened and cut all ties." One girl described how the attacker's "mom worked in the school district," and how she convinced herself not to speak out so that she "didn’t create enemies at school.” A lot of people can't fathom that the people they interact with can commit abominable crimes against them or other people around them because they feel as if they "should have been able to trust that guy."

When it is someone we know "really well and had spent a lot of time with," it becomes more than a sex crime. It is a betrayal on a personal level, which leaves victims with trust issues: "I had known the kid since I was in third grade. We grew up our entire lives together," notes one student, "his mom knew my mom." In the years where we tend to hide things from our parents, it takes a lot of strength to discuss a sexual assault and admit that it was someone close to you, or even someone close to your parents.


Slut Walk NYC. Image credit: Flickr/Charlotte Cooper

If you have not experienced sexual harassment or assault, you may be asking why victims don't speak up. Not only does it take time to process a sexual assault or harassment, but social pressures tend to encourage people to keep quiet. At 14-15, one student described how she was questioning what she was wearing, telling herself, "Oh my god, I shouldn’t have worn that skirt or that dress." Peer pressure is something adults warn us about from an early age, but it's often brushed off as a joke. One student, when she opened up to her friends about her sexual assault, asked her "Well weren’t you flirting with him?". She described how she was simply sitting on the bed, "quiet and cross-legged," which was not flirting. They then proceeded to attack what she was wearing, saying "Your shirt was really low-cut.’" Lastly, a lot of them told her that she "could've left the room."

As terrible as it sounds, victim blaming and slut shaming, even by friends and family, are typical responses to sexual assault allegations. Another student's friends accused her of consuming alcohol before the attempted assault, telling her "You’re such a partyer—you did this to yourself," and "you’re the one who is in control of your alcohol." Even some women internalize the societal misogyny's view of sexual assault. A power complex kept one student silent after her assault by an older man. He was someone, in her words: "that I saw very often," and that, "had a lot of power over me (...) His power over me led me to think that getting into a relationship with him would make life better, that he would pay more attention to me". We see a parallel between this situation and the Harry Weinstein allegations—he took advantage of young women in the film industry because he was aware of his power over them—he could end their career before it had even begun.

The effects of sexual harassment and assaults can last a lifetime. They seep into every aspect of life— forming new relationships, being comfortable leaving the house, paranoia when alone—just to name a few. It is hard to enjoy life when always on the alert. Victims even find themselves self-monitoring their behavior when they are out clubbing, feeling as if "[they] have to control [their] drinking more," or have to "watch out for how [they] look at men." Normal human behaviors can lead attackers to feel entitlement towards women and men's bodies, with one student stressing, "Simply making eye contact has elicited sexual harassment in the past."


Participants in the "living display" during the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month event at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., April 1, 2016. Image credit: U.S. Air Force/Denise M. Nevins

Experiencing sexual assault can also elicit grave anxiety disorders and depression due to the intense stress that these experiences put on victims. One student describes how she deals with "the residual anxiety and PTSD" of her assault. The possibility of an intimate relationship feels impossible to her, "because I cannot trust a man enough to be with me anymore." Sexual assault can change how we interact with people romantically, with one student explaining, "I feel that it’s weird when it comes to sex because it’s really important—almost more important than any other aspect of a relationship." She will never forget what happened to her, as it is now: "engraved in my mind."

There is immense residue which harassment or assault leaves behind on a victim, but dealing with adverse effects can only be facilitated by speaking out—although difficult. Lots of victims wait years to tell people about their assaults with two different students advising against this, describing how horrible it was when "[they] had to go through this by [themself]." One of the two found the strength to speak about it to her father about three years following the assault: "It was the hardest thing I had ever had to tell someone," but the courage she gathered to tell her father, allowed her to process what had happened. "I'm okay now," she says, "and that came from learning how to tell people around me."

Denial overcame a different student's mind, mostly because of what her friends had told her. She, "truly believed that it didn't happen, that it wasn't really an assault." Her attacker's attempt got stopped, so she decided to push the idea aside. When she grew older, her "fears came out in random situations," and also she, "stopped drinking with boyfriends or guys I've seen because I get nervous." It took her almost four years to speak about the attempted assault and to recognize it as such, which "was more damaging to me than I had ever imagined." Of course, it is okay to take some time to process an attack and consider who to confide in, but it is important not to "hold it in for too long," because, according to her, "it still haunts me now."

After the Weinstein allegations came out, the hashtag #metoo was started, creating a dialogue and platform for women to speak up and discuss their stories. Celebrities who have joined the effort to encourage people to open up include Alyssa Milano, Lady Gaga, Barry Crimmins, and Debra Messing (and much more).

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, call 800.656.HOPE (American phones) or 01 45 88 19 00 (French phones) for help, join the hashtag #metoo or speak to a family member.

The topic of sexual assault has taken media outlets by storm during these past two weeks, following the reports of Harry Weinstein's sexual aggressions towards women and his billion-dollar settlements which helped keep them quiet. These allegations came from various women in the film industry and occurred over the span of over 20 years. As important as it is that people are speaking out against sexual abuse and encouraging those who have experienced it to come forward, the real horror comes from the fact that Weinstein's employees knew about his disgusting habits and swept them under the rug. Weinstein overpowered young women from a position of power over and over again, and those who witnessed it kept it to themselves in fear of losing their jobs. These issues deriving from sexual assault do not only occur in celebrity cases-many of the people around us keep quiet in fear of negative attention, violent backlash from the attacker himself, or feeling as if it were their fault. I spoke to four AUP students who described their experiences with sexual harassment and abuse, and how they processed them.

All interviews will be anonymous to protect the identity and wellbeing of the students.

Acknowledging how common harassment and assaults are in our society keeps us from separating these highly publicized, celebrity stories from what happens to the people around us. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. World-wide, about 1 in 3 women have experienced some sort of sexual violence, and 14% of reported rapes involve men or boys. We often think that things "like that" will never happen to us. That is because they should not happen to us. Unfortunately, many people around us have experienced sexual harassment and assault multiple times. “I’ve experienced a number of sexual harassment. The majority of the time it’s just a slap on the bum, but one time that really stuck out to me what when I had my boobs grabbed. I’ve also had my vagina grabbed in a club.” Cat-calling is something that is easily dismissed as a "compliment", or is not taking seriously as a form of harassment. "Coming from such a big city, I have had guys cat-call me since I was 12 years old. Since I was old enough to have breasts." Assault in the age group 12-17 accounts for 15% of all sexual assaults, but sexual assault in early years is difficult to understand and therefore is not always reported or acknowledged as assault. "“I know a girl who was 12 when a friend in our friend group raped her, he was much older, maybe 16 at the time. Rumors went around that they had sex, and she said ‘no, no, we never had sex’ because she wasn’t conscious. She was asleep. He told her one day that he raped her, and for the longest time people still wouldn’t believe her. People still won’t believe her. They say ‘she was just young when it happened and he was older’ so they didn’t count it as rape. People would say things like ‘why is she so special that he would do that to her, what would make him want to rape her?'"


Image Credit: RAINN

Sexual assault and harassment tends to be discussed on a stranger basis, but the majority of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance. Most of the students interviewed had experienced at least some form of harassment by their friends, but some students had been attacked by acquaintances. “When I was 15, my friend and I got high and she left me in the room with her older brother. He took advantage of me."One student preferred not to specify the relationship she had with her attacker. “I’m a victim of rape. When I was 16 years old I was raped by someone I knew." Another student went into detail on her attempted attack:

“During my sophomore year of high school, one of my best guy friends threw a really big party in his family's big empty warehouse that they owned for their packaging company.  I got really drunk with a bunch of my friends, and at one point the guy that owned the place pulled me all the way to the aisles in the back, super far away from my friends where you couldn’t be heard. At this point, I was so drunk my head was bobbing up and down. He laid me down on the cold, linoleum floor and my head was hitting it hard. He wasn’t drunk at all. He tried to have sex with me, and I started yelling ‘No, no, please stop’. My friend had noticed that I was gone and thankfully she came as soon as she heard my voice and pushed him off of me. After, a bunch of my friends accused me of ruining that party. I had just turned 16.”

All forms of sexual assault are terrible experiences, whether they are interrupted or not, and no matter who the attacker was. Students were asked about the implications that knowing their attacker had on how they processed the attack, and how hard it was for them to talk about it. Across the board responses were similar, claiming that knowing their attacker "added a weird dynamic on top of the assault itself. I felt like I couldn’t ‘out’ [my attacker] for what happened and cut all ties." One girl discussed her fear of repercussions if she had spoken out, saying “I told a few friends, but it was really complicated because it was one of my friend’s older brothers. Their mom worked in the school district and I didn’t want to create any enemies in the school.” There is another aspect of these kinds of assaults-we never believe that the people we interact with can commit such atrocious crimes against us, or other people around us. "I should have been able to trust that guy. It wasn’t some random stranger, it was someone who I knew really well and had spent a lot of time with. I had known the kid since I was in third grade. We grew up our entire lives together. His mom knew my mom."


Image Credit: Flickr/Charlotte Cooper


If you have not experienced sexual harassment or assault, you may be asking yourself why victims don't speak up. Not only does it take serious time to process a sexual assault or harassment, but social pressures encourage people to keep quiet. Victims get slut-shamed and victim-blamed, even by their own friends and family. We only hear about the stories that people can bear to speak about. Sexual assault survivors can internalize these societal pressures to keep quiet and to question themselves, which can lead to self blame. People who experience sexual harassment or assault at a young age tend to blame themselves, excusing their attacker's behavior somehow. “When I was 14 or 15 I would blame it on myself. I would say ‘Oh my god, I shouldn’t have worn that skirt or that dress’. When you’re younger you’re so much more impressionable to what people tell you about what it means to be a woman or what it means to be a girl." Friend groups at a young age play a huge role in our lives, and when friends blame you for it, it's hard not to listen. “When I first started talking to my friends about it, they said ‘Well weren’t you flirting with him?’ I told them that I was sitting on the side of the bed, quiet and cross-legged, so I didn’t think so. They then said ‘Your shirt was really low-cut.’ It was slut shaming and victim blaming. I had a lot of friends tell me that I could've left the room." Another student's friends blamed her for consuming alcohol before the attempted assault. "I blamed it on myself for awhile because my friends always said ‘You’re such a partyer, you do this to yourself’, or ‘you’re the one who is in control of your alcohol’." One student described how the power complex kept her silent: “I didn’t speak up about it because I was afraid, more than anything. Because he was someone that I knew, someone that I saw very often. Someone who had a lot of power over me. Because of that I thought that getting into a relationship with him would make my life better, that he would pay more attention to me, but it didn’t. It just made my life worse."

The effects that sexual harassment and assaults have on victims last a lifetime. The seep into every aspect of their lives- forming new relationships, being comfortable leaving the house, paranoia when walking alone, etc. It is hard to enjoy life when you are always alert, always preparing for the next attack. "I think it invokes this kind of fear and alertness that men don’t have. When I go to a club as a woman I feel like I have to control my drinking more, and I have to watch how I look at men-even just making eye contact. Simply making eye contact has elicited the sexual harassment in the past." Experiencing sexual assault can also elicit serious anxiety disorders and depression due to the intense stress that these experiences put on victims. "I’m still dealing with the residual anxiety and PTSD of what happened to me. It’s difficult for me to have any kind of intimate relationship because I cannot trust a man enough to be with me anymore. I experience anxiety attacks and panic attacks regularly, especially in social situations." Our ideas of sex can change drastically after an assault, placing more importance on it than we normal would: "It has definitely affected how I interact with people that I’m dating. I feel that it’s very weird when it comes to sex, because it’s really important, almost more important than any other aspect because of the experience I had. It’s engraved in my mind.” 

The residue that any harassment or assault leaves on you shapes you, but dealing with the negative effects is facilitated by speaking out. Students give their honest opinions about how victims can process these experiences. "It’s really important to push that it isn’t the victim's fault. If you blame yourself you internalize a lot of self-hatred and a lot of other issues, which can develop more serious issues than those that naturally come out from assault. It happens to a lot of people, you’re not alone.” Lots of victims wait years to tell people about their assaults. Two different students advised against this, speaking about very similar situations that they had by keeping quiet: “To those people who have had to go through this, speak up. Tell somebody about it. I say this because I had to go through it all by myself, and I’m still dealing with the repercussions of that. I’m telling you- tell a friend, tell your mom, tell your dad. I know it is very hard. I told my dad about two years ago and it was the hardest thing I had ever had to tell someone. I’ve been living with this trauma for about five years, and I’m okay now. That came from learning how to tell people around me.” The other student talks about her strategy of denial, which did more harm than good:

"At the time, I was in a state of denial. I went along with what my friends said, and I truly believed that it didn’t happen, or that it wasn’t really assault. Especially because it was an unfinished attempt, I pushed it aside and tried not to think about it. I think as I’ve grown older and continued to push it off, my fears come out in random situations. I get uncomfortable or jumpy when someone touches me surprisingly or anything like that. It’s okay to take some time to digest it, and think about who you can confide in or who you want to talk about it to, but I would definitely say don’t hold it in for too long. I just started talking about this the end of my freshman year of college, almost four years after it happened, and it was too long. It was more damaging to me than I ever imagined.”

After the Weinstein allegations came out, a hashtag was started "#metoo", creating an open dialogue for women to discuss their stories. What began as a celebrity scandal has turned into a powerful social media platform for people to come out about their experiences. Celebrities who have joined the effort to encourage people to open up include Alyssa Milano, Lady Gaga, Barry Crimmins, and Debra Messing (amongst many more). 

 

The topic of sexual assault has taken media outlets by storm during these past two weeks, following the reports of Harry Weinstein's sexual aggressions towards women and his billion-dollar settlements which helped keep them quiet. These allegations came from various women in the film industry and occurred over the span of over 20 years. As important as it is that people are speaking out against sexual abuse and encouraging those who have experienced it to come forward, the real horror comes from the fact that Weinstein's employees knew about his disgusting habits and swept them under the rug. Weinstein overpowered young women from a position of power over and over again, and those who witnessed it kept it to themselves in fear of losing their jobs. These issues deriving from sexual assault do not only occur in celebrity cases-many of the people around us keep quiet in fear of negative attention, violent backlash from the attacker himself, or feeling as if it were their fault. I spoke to four AUP students who described their experiences with sexual harassment and abuse, and how they processed them.

All interviews will be anonymous to protect the identity and wellbeing of the students.

Acknowledging how common harassment and assaults are in our society keeps us from separating these highly publicized, celebrity stories from what happens to the people around us. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. World-wide, about 1 in 3 women have experienced some sort of sexual violence, and 14% of reported rapes involve men or boys. We often think that things "like that" will never happen to us. That is because they should not happen to us. Unfortunately, many people around us have experienced sexual harassment and/or assault multiple times. “I’ve experienced a number of sexual harassment. The majority of the time it’s just a slap on the bum, but one time that really stuck out to me what when I had my boobs grabbed. I’ve also had my vagina grabbed in a club.” Cat-calling is something that is easily dismissed as a "compliment", or is not taking seriously as a form of harassment. "Coming from such a big city, I have had guys cat-call me since I was 12 years old. Since I was old enough to have breasts." Assault in the age group 12-17 accounts for 15% of all sexual assaults, but sexual assault in early years is difficult to understand and therefore is not always reported or acknowledged as assault. "“I know a girl who was 12 when a friend in our friend group raped her, he was much older, maybe 16 at the time. Rumors went around that they had sex, and she said ‘no, no, we never had sex’ because she wasn’t conscious. She was asleep. He told her one day that he raped her, and for the longest time people still wouldn’t believe her. People still won’t believe her. They say ‘she was just young when it happened and he was older’ so they didn’t count it as rape. People would say things like ‘why is she so special that he would do that to her, what would make him want to rape her?'"


Image Credit: RAINN

Sexual assault and harassment tends to be discussed on a stranger basis, but the majority of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance. Most of the students interviewed had experienced at least some form of harassment by their friends, but some students had been attacked by acquaintances. “When I was 15, my friend and I got high and she left me in the room with her older brother. He took advantage of me."One student preferred not to specify the relationship she had with her attacker. “I’m a victim of rape. When I was 16 years old I was raped by someone I knew." Another student went into detail on her attempted attack:

“During my sophomore year of high school, one of my best guy friends threw a really big party in his family's big empty warehouse that they owned for their packaging company.  I got really drunk with a bunch of my friends, and at one point the guy that owned the place pulled me all the way to the aisles in the back, super far away from my friends where you couldn’t be heard. At this point, I was so drunk my head was bobbing up and down. He laid me down on the cold, linoleum floor and my head was hitting it hard. He wasn’t drunk at all. He tried to have sex with me, and I started yelling ‘No, no, please stop’. My friend had noticed that I was gone and thankfully she came as soon as she heard my voice and pushed him off of me. After, a bunch of my friends accused me of ruining that party. I had just turned 16.”

All forms of sexual assault are terrible experiences, whether they are interrupted or not, and no matter who the attacker was. Students were asked about the implications that knowing their attacker had on how they processed the attack, and how hard it was for them to talk about it. Across the board responses were similar, claiming that knowing their attacker "added a weird dynamic on top of the assault itself. I felt like I couldn’t ‘out’ [my attacker] for what happened and cut all ties." One girl discussed her fear of repercussions if she had spoken out, saying “I told a few friends, but it was really complicated because it was one of my friend’s older brothers. Their mom worked in the school district and I didn’t want to create any enemies in the school.” There is another aspect of these kinds of assaults-we never believe that the people we interact with can commit such atrocious crimes against us, or other people around us. "I should have been able to trust that guy. It wasn’t some random stranger, it was someone who I knew really well and had spent a lot of time with. I had known the kid since I was in third grade. We grew up our entire lives together. His mom knew my mom."


Image Credit: Flickr/Charlotte Cooper


If you have not experienced sexual harassment or assault, you may be asking yourself why victims don't speak up. Not only does it take serious time to process a sexual assault or harassment, but social pressures encourage people to keep quiet. Victims get slut-shamed and victim-blamed, even by their own friends and family. We only hear about the stories that people can bear to speak about. Sexual assault survivors can internalize these societal pressures to keep quiet and to question themselves, which can lead to self blame. People who experience sexual harassment or assault at a young age tend to blame themselves, excusing their attacker's behavior somehow. “When I was 14 or 15 I would blame it on myself. I would say ‘Oh my god, I shouldn’t have worn that skirt or that dress’. When you’re younger you’re so much more impressionable to what people tell you about what it means to be a woman or what it means to be a girl." Friend groups at a young age play a huge role in our lives, and when friends blame you for it, it's hard not to listen. “When I first started talking to my friends about it, they said ‘Well weren’t you flirting with him?’ I told them that I was sitting on the side of the bed, quiet and cross-legged, so I didn’t think so. They then said ‘Your shirt was really low-cut.’ It was slut shaming and victim blaming. I had a lot of friends tell me that I could've left the room." Another student's friends blamed her for consuming alcohol before the attempted assault. "I blamed it on myself for awhile because my friends always said ‘You’re such a partyer, you do this to yourself’, or ‘you’re the one who is in control of your alcohol’." One student described how the power complex kept her silent: “I didn’t speak up about it because I was afraid, more than anything. Because he was someone that I knew, someone that I saw very often. Someone who had a lot of power over me. Because of that I thought that getting into a relationship with him would make my life better, that he would pay more attention to me, but it didn’t. It just made my life worse."

The effects that sexual harassment and assaults have on victims last a lifetime. The seep into every aspect of their lives- forming new relationships, being comfortable leaving the house, paranoia when walking alone, etc. It is hard to enjoy life when you are always alert, always preparing for the next attack. "I think it invokes this kind of fear and alertness that men don’t have. When I go to a club as a woman I feel like I have to control my drinking more, and I have to watch how I look at men-even just making eye contact. Simply making eye contact has elicited the sexual harassment in the past." Experiencing sexual assault can also elicit serious anxiety disorders and depression due to the intense stress that these experiences put on victims. "I’m still dealing with the residual anxiety and PTSD of what happened to me. It’s difficult for me to have any kind of intimate relationship because I cannot trust a man enough to be with me anymore. I experience anxiety attacks and panic attacks regularly, especially in social situations." Our ideas of sex can change drastically after an assault, placing more importance on it than we normal would: "It has definitely affected how I interact with people that I’m dating. I feel that it’s very weird when it comes to sex, because it’s really important, almost more important than any other aspect because of the experience I had. It’s engraved in my mind.” 

The residue that any harassment or assault leaves on you shapes you, but dealing with the negative effects is facilitated by speaking out. Students give their honest opinions about how victims can process these experiences. "It’s really important to push that it isn’t the victim's fault. If you blame yourself you internalize a lot of self-hatred and a lot of other issues, which can develop more serious issues than those that naturally come out from assault. It happens to a lot of people, you’re not alone.” Lots of victims wait years to tell people about their assaults. Two different students advised against this, speaking about very similar situations that they had by keeping quiet: “To those people who have had to go through this, speak up. Tell somebody about it. I say this because I had to go through it all by myself, and I’m still dealing with the repercussions of that. I’m telling you- tell a friend, tell your mom, tell your dad. I know it is very hard. I told my dad about two years ago and it was the hardest thing I had ever had to tell someone. I’ve been living with this trauma for about five years, and I’m okay now. That came from learning how to tell people around me.” The other student talks about her strategy of denial, which did more harm than good:

"At the time, I was in a state of denial. I went along with what my friends said, and I truly believed that it didn’t happen, or that it wasn’t really assault. Especially because it was an unfinished attempt, I pushed it aside and tried not to think about it. I think as I’ve grown older and continued to push it off, my fears come out in random situations. I get uncomfortable or jumpy when someone touches me surprisingly or anything like that. It’s okay to take some time to digest it, and think about who you can confide in or who you want to talk about it to, but I would definitely say don’t hold it in for too long. I just started talking about this the end of my freshman year of college, almost four years after it happened, and it was too long. It was more damaging to me than I ever imagined.”

After the Weinstein allegations came out, a hashtag was started "#metoo", creating an open dialogue for women to discuss their stories. What began as a celebrity scandal has turned into a powerful social media platform for people to come out about their experiences. Celebrities who have joined the effort to encourage people to open up include Alyssa Milano, Lady Gaga, Barry Crimmins, and Debra Messing (amongst many more). 

 

The topic of sexual assault has taken media outlets by storm during these past two weeks, following the reports of Harry Weinstein's sexual aggressions towards women and his billion-dollar settlements which helped keep them quiet. These allegations came from various women in the film industry and occurred over the span of over 20 years. As important as it is that people are speaking out against sexual abuse and encouraging those who have experienced it to come forward, the real horror comes from the fact that Weinstein's employees knew about his disgusting habits and swept them under the rug. Weinstein overpowered young women from a position of power over and over again, and those who witnessed it kept it to themselves in fear of losing their jobs. These issues deriving from sexual assault do not only occur in celebrity cases-many of the people around us keep quiet in fear of negative attention, violent backlash from the attacker himself, or feeling as if it were their fault. I spoke to four AUP students who described their experiences with sexual harassment and abuse, and how they processed them.

All interviews will be anonymous to protect the identity and wellbeing of the students.

Acknowledging how common harassment and assaults are in our society keeps us from separating these highly publicized, celebrity stories from what happens to the people around us. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. World-wide, about 1 in 3 women have experienced some sort of sexual violence, and 14% of reported rapes involve men or boys. We often think that things "like that" will never happen to us. That is because they should not happen to us. Unfortunately, many people around us have experienced sexual harassment and/or assault multiple times. “I’ve experienced a number of sexual harassment. The majority of the time it’s just a slap on the bum, but one time that really stuck out to me what when I had my boobs grabbed. I’ve also had my vagina grabbed in a club.” Cat-calling is something that is easily dismissed as a "compliment", or is not taking seriously as a form of harassment. "Coming from such a big city, I have had guys cat-call me since I was 12 years old. Since I was old enough to have breasts." Assault in the age group 12-17 accounts for 15% of all sexual assaults, but sexual assault in early years is difficult to understand and therefore is not always reported or acknowledged as assault. "“I know a girl who was 12 when a friend in our friend group raped her, he was much older, maybe 16 at the time. Rumors went around that they had sex, and she said ‘no, no, we never had sex’ because she wasn’t conscious. She was asleep. He told her one day that he raped her, and for the longest time people still wouldn’t believe her. People still won’t believe her. They say ‘she was just young when it happened and he was older’ so they didn’t count it as rape. People would say things like ‘why is she so special that he would do that to her, what would make him want to rape her?'"


Image Credit: RAINN

Sexual assault and harassment tends to be discussed on a stranger basis, but the majority of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance. Most of the students interviewed had experienced at least some form of harassment by their friends, but some students had been attacked by acquaintances. “When I was 15, my friend and I got high and she left me in the room with her older brother. He took advantage of me."One student preferred not to specify the relationship she had with her attacker. “I’m a victim of rape. When I was 16 years old I was raped by someone I knew." Another student went into detail on her attempted attack:

“During my sophomore year of high school, one of my best guy friends threw a really big party in his family's big empty warehouse that they owned for their packaging company.  I got really drunk with a bunch of my friends, and at one point the guy that owned the place pulled me all the way to the aisles in the back, super far away from my friends where you couldn’t be heard. At this point, I was so drunk my head was bobbing up and down. He laid me down on the cold, linoleum floor and my head was hitting it hard. He wasn’t drunk at all. He tried to have sex with me, and I started yelling ‘No, no, please stop’. My friend had noticed that I was gone and thankfully she came as soon as she heard my voice and pushed him off of me. After, a bunch of my friends accused me of ruining that party. I had just turned 16.”

All forms of sexual assault are terrible experiences, whether they are interrupted or not, and no matter who the attacker was. Students were asked about the implications that knowing their attacker had on how they processed the attack, and how hard it was for them to talk about it. Across the board responses were similar, claiming that knowing their attacker "added a weird dynamic on top of the assault itself. I felt like I couldn’t ‘out’ [my attacker] for what happened and cut all ties." One girl discussed her fear of repercussions if she had spoken out, saying “I told a few friends, but it was really complicated because it was one of my friend’s older brothers. Their mom worked in the school district and I didn’t want to create any enemies in the school.” There is another aspect of these kinds of assaults-we never believe that the people we interact with can commit such atrocious crimes against us, or other people around us. "I should have been able to trust that guy. It wasn’t some random stranger, it was someone who I knew really well and had spent a lot of time with. I had known the kid since I was in third grade. We grew up our entire lives together. His mom knew my mom."


Image Credit: Flickr/Charlotte Cooper


If you have not experienced sexual harassment or assault, you may be asking yourself why victims don't speak up. Not only does it take serious time to process a sexual assault or harassment, but social pressures encourage people to keep quiet. Victims get slut-shamed and victim-blamed, even by their own friends and family. We only hear about the stories that people can bear to speak about. Sexual assault survivors can internalize these societal pressures to keep quiet and to question themselves, which can lead to self blame. People who experience sexual harassment or assault at a young age tend to blame themselves, excusing their attacker's behavior somehow. “When I was 14 or 15 I would blame it on myself. I would say ‘Oh my god, I shouldn’t have worn that skirt or that dress’. When you’re younger you’re so much more impressionable to what people tell you about what it means to be a woman or what it means to be a girl." Friend groups at a young age play a huge role in our lives, and when friends blame you for it, it's hard not to listen. “When I first started talking to my friends about it, they said ‘Well weren’t you flirting with him?’ I told them that I was sitting on the side of the bed, quiet and cross-legged, so I didn’t think so. They then said ‘Your shirt was really low-cut.’ It was slut shaming and victim blaming. I had a lot of friends tell me that I could've left the room." Another student's friends blamed her for consuming alcohol before the attempted assault. "I blamed it on myself for awhile because my friends always said ‘You’re such a partyer, you do this to yourself’, or ‘you’re the one who is in control of your alcohol’." One student described how the power complex kept her silent: “I didn’t speak up about it because I was afraid, more than anything. Because he was someone that I knew, someone that I saw very often. Someone who had a lot of power over me. Because of that I thought that getting into a relationship with him would make my life better, that he would pay more attention to me, but it didn’t. It just made my life worse."

The effects that sexual harassment and assaults have on victims last a lifetime. The seep into every aspect of their lives- forming new relationships, being comfortable leaving the house, paranoia when walking alone, etc. It is hard to enjoy life when you are always alert, always preparing for the next attack. "I think it invokes this kind of fear and alertness that men don’t have. When I go to a club as a woman I feel like I have to control my drinking more, and I have to watch how I look at men-even just making eye contact. Simply making eye contact has elicited the sexual harassment in the past." Experiencing sexual assault can also elicit serious anxiety disorders and depression due to the intense stress that these experiences put on victims. "I’m still dealing with the residual anxiety and PTSD of what happened to me. It’s difficult for me to have any kind of intimate relationship because I cannot trust a man enough to be with me anymore. I experience anxiety attacks and panic attacks regularly, especially in social situations." Our ideas of sex can change drastically after an assault, placing more importance on it than we normal would: "It has definitely affected how I interact with people that I’m dating. I feel that it’s very weird when it comes to sex, because it’s really important, almost more important than any other aspect because of the experience I had. It’s engraved in my mind.” 

The residue that any harassment or assault leaves on you shapes you, but dealing with the negative effects is facilitated by speaking out. Students give their honest opinions about how victims can process these experiences. "It’s really important to push that it isn’t the victim's fault. If you blame yourself you internalize a lot of self-hatred and a lot of other issues, which can develop more serious issues than those that naturally come out from assault. It happens to a lot of people, you’re not alone.” Lots of victims wait years to tell people about their assaults. Two different students advised against this, speaking about very similar situations that they had by keeping quiet: “To those people who have had to go through this, speak up. Tell somebody about it. I say this because I had to go through it all by myself, and I’m still dealing with the repercussions of that. I’m telling you- tell a friend, tell your mom, tell your dad. I know it is very hard. I told my dad about two years ago and it was the hardest thing I had ever had to tell someone. I’ve been living with this trauma for about five years, and I’m okay now. That came from learning how to tell people around me.” The other student talks about her strategy of denial, which did more harm than good:

"At the time, I was in a state of denial. I went along with what my friends said, and I truly believed that it didn’t happen, or that it wasn’t really assault. Especially because it was an unfinished attempt, I pushed it aside and tried not to think about it. I think as I’ve grown older and continued to push it off, my fears come out in random situations. I get uncomfortable or jumpy when someone touches me surprisingly or anything like that. It’s okay to take some time to digest it, and think about who you can confide in or who you want to talk about it to, but I would definitely say don’t hold it in for too long. I just started talking about this the end of my freshman year of college, almost four years after it happened, and it was too long. It was more damaging to me than I ever imagined.”

After the Weinstein allegations came out, a hashtag was started "#metoo", creating an open dialogue for women to discuss their stories. What began as a celebrity scandal has turned into a powerful social media platform for people to come out about their experiences. Celebrities who have joined the effort to encourage people to open up include Alyssa Milano, Lady Gaga, Barry Crimmins, and Debra Messing (amongst many more).