What has long been considered a socially taboo subject, stories of sexual violence are now at the forefront of newspapers, talk-shows, and everyday conversations as survivors across the country join in what has become a national movement toward justice and change.
Last Thursday, Sept. 27 marked a historic day in this movement when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who she claims sexually assaulted her in high school.
The Friday after the hearing, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reported more than 3,000 people contacting the National Sexual Assault Hotline to receive help, making Sept. 28, according to the report, the busiest day in the hotline’s 24-year history.
Reports of sexual violence have spiked at Pitt State as well. Two reports of rape were filed within 10 days of each other; one was reported Sept. 10 and allegedly occurred Sept. 8, the other was reported Sept. 18 and allegedly occurred Aug. 22. Both reports indicated Nation Hall as the general location in which the assaults occurred.
In addition to the reported rapes, several students at Pittsburg State University are joining in the movement against sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence. Last week, students in the social work program wrote anonymous accounts of their own experiences with sexual violence along with the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport on Post-It notes, which they then posted on the walls of Russ Hall fourth floor.
Kirsten Humphrey, social work program director and associate professor, facilitated the Post-It note project and encouraged students in her program to participate.
“… The purpose was to educate others regarding the varied reasons that assaults and abuse go un-reported and to stand in solidarity with survivors of abuse and assault,” Humphrey said in an email exchange. “… I know it will be hard for some to believe that this wasn’t a demonstration for political purposes, but it really was not. As social work majors, my students know the power of shining a light on a problem, they know the power of speaking up, and they know the power of listening to others’ stories.”
While many sexual abuse survivors don’t report their abuse immediately, many are now feeling empowered by Ford’s testimony as well as the massive national shift in how sexual abuse is talked about, and they are sharing their stories with the world in hopes of creating real change and empowering others to do the same. The following accounts are from Pitt State students, many of whom participated in the Post-It project, and many of whom requested to remain anonymous due to the sensitive and personal nature of their stories.
“… He assaulted me in his truck.” – Chanda Williams, graduate student in English
According to RAINN, seven out of 10 rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, and 25 percent are committed by a current significant other. Chanda Williams, graduate student in English at PSU, said that she was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend at the time when she was attending a community college prior to attending Pitt State.
“… it was long distance, it was supposed to be low-key, nothing super important about it, but within like a week or two he was blowing up my phone, yelling at me if I didn’t come to see him, he showed up at my work drunk several times,” Williams said. “Every time he apologized with ‘I didn’t mean it, I love you,’ so it was that very cyclical nature, like we were in a bad place and then he said ‘I love you’ and it was a good place again. But it finally escalated to the point where I went to see him, and we drove out in the middle of nowhere and he said ‘we’re just going to have a really romantic picnic lunch, and we will hang out, it’ll be nice.’ And then he assaulted me in his truck.”
With therapy, Williams said that she has come to remember more about what happened since she had blocked out many of the memories due to trauma, and now she is coming forward with her story in hopes of empowering other survivors to do the same.
“I think the most painful thing about it is that so many people tend to be seen as, who come forth about it, as liars, and it’s so damaging,” Williams said. “As someone who’s been through it and a teacher who’s had students confide in them about it, it’s really important to me to make sure that this is seen for what it is, as a movement of people coming forward and being heard, and not just opportunists searching for a way to make their voices heard or to get people out of the things they are seeking.”
“… You wouldn’t really see it with grandmas.” – Anonymous junior in social work
One of the misconceptions regarding sexual abuse is that the perpetrator almost always male, but for one junior in social work, this was not the case.
“I don’t really remember it starting, it was just me and my sister, at my grandma’s house, we’d go, and so I didn’t realize things would get inappropriate because I was like three or four, and I think it kept happening ‘till I was seven,” she said. “… I was seven I finally told my dad that his mom was molesting me. He didn’t want to believe it, so he called me a liar when I was seven so that kind of triggered the anti-trust point. So all my life I kind of believed ‘oh, it’s this dream, it didn’t really happen, my dad would know,’ and he would tell me and protect me.”
The student said that her sister, older by four years, was also molested by their grandmother at a young age.
“My sister, she remembered more of it but she kind of came to terms since it didn’t happen as severe to her,” she said. “She would stay the night with her friends and then I would get stuck going to grandma’s by myself, so that’s when the abuse got pretty bad, and I just didn’t think anything was wrong with it, and then in school they were like ‘this is good touch, bad touch,’ but no one really tells you okay if your family is doing that, what should you do? So, I was kind of in this blank area, and when my dad told me I was a liar I was like ‘well hey, maybe it didn’t happen, but I don’t know.’”
After years of struggling with depression and sleep paralysis, the student said that in college she finally began to realize the truth of what had happened to her.
“I started having really bad sleep paralysis, and this happened in college when I was, very nicely, living with my sister. So, I told her ‘I’m having sleep paralysis and for some reason the person that’s coming over me,’ because it was always like something was choking me in my sleep, then I would wake up, and I was like ‘it was always grandma, and I don’t know why.’ And her eyes got real big and I was like ‘oh, it did happen,’ there were no words but we both knew, that was our confirmation,” she said.
The sisters soon afterward told their mother what happened, and since then their grandmother has not been allowed to contact the sisters. The student said that there is some tension within her family as her father is still coming to terms with the truth of what his mother did, but that they are continuing to work through it.
“I haven’t seen (my grandma) since last October, and even then it was very brief … but my dad sees her like daily. So it’s kind of like, why are you associating with her? But at the same time, we get it, that’s your mom. So, our family’s kind of like ‘we can’t really give him an ultimatum because that’s his mom,’ and who knows what she’s put him through, my dad’s not really a talker. But other than that, she’s out of my life and my sister’s. …Usually, you would see this with uncles and grandpas, you wouldn’t really see it with grandmas.”
“I was 15 … he was 18.” – Anonymous freshman in social work
Nine percent of sexual assault perpetrators are between the ages of 18 and 20, according to RAINN. One freshman in social work at PSU, who requested to remain anonymous, reported that she was raped by an 18-year-old who at the time was living with her and her family.
“I was 15 and we moved to the Philippines, my dad married a Filipino, and so we moved there, and we moved into a house, and my stepmom’s nephew lived with us, he was 18,” she said. “One night he came (into my bedroom) and of course I’m tiny, and I had no way of pushing him off of me. The first time it happened he just came in, and I don’t know, it was like two in the morning, I was half asleep, and it happened. I didn’t report it at first because he was like ‘I’ll kill you if you tell anyone.’ And so I was like, ‘okay, I won’t report it.’”
The student said that her assailant raped her a second time while her parents were working late.
“ … The door in my room didn’t have a lock, and it was for my younger sister, she would come in late at night because my parents worked really late, and so she would come in late and sleep with me because my parents would come in super late at night for their job,” she said. “So he was really drunk one night and he pushed me up against the door and I tried to push back, and my younger sister was asleep, and it happened again. And finally, I was like ‘I have to tell someone.’”
The first person the student reported her assault to was her father, who was “furious” and forced his daughter’s attacker to leave the house. The student’s stepmother, however, defended her son.
“I had to tell my stepmom what happened, and she was like ‘it’s your fault, you were too nice to him, that’s your fault, you wear shorts around the house, you brought it upon yourself.’ And that’s why I didn’t report,” she said.
After suffering through being raped in addition to facing adversity from those who didn’t believe her or accused her of bringing it upon herself, the student said that she wants other survivors to know that the only person at fault is the person who assaulted them.
“It’s not your fault, it’s never your fault, it’s not the way you dress, it’s not the way you act towards people,” she said. “… But I know that a lot of people going through it, especially seeing the Post-Its, there’s a lot of people having to deal with this, so anything I can do to bring it to light, that’s what I want to do, that’s why I’m a social worker, that’s what I want to do.”
“… It just changed my life forever.” – Anonymous senior in social work
This anonymous source said she is an untraditional student at Pitt State in her senior year in the social work program. When she was in her mid-twenties, she was raped by a man she had just started dating.
“… This girl I knew set me up to go out with her brother, he was a lot older than I was,” she said. “I went out with him a couple times and he kind of got me to trust him and I got real comfortable around him, but I got a couple warning signs, he got real mad at some people when we were out on a date … and I should have taken a hint but I was real young, you know. I was out on a date and he just went off in a rage and got mad at me for nothing, he just accused me of thinking I was better than he was and started to fight with me for no reason at all then attacked me and he raped me. It was so shocking to me that I just really didn’t know how to react or anything, I was so stunned … I only went out with him a couple times, I hadn’t been intimate with him yet because I didn’t know him very well.”
At the time, the student said that she did not report her assault out of both shame and fear, and that she is still struggling to cope with the affects of it.
“I was afraid of him, I was afraid that he knew where I lived … and I was afraid that he would come after me, and I moved to a different section of the city … to get away from him because I was really afraid that he would come and hurt me later, that was another reason, and also the humiliation of the whole thing and just not wanting people to know,” she said. “I didn’t seek treatment for it and that was a mistake, I should have and I’ve started working on seeking treatment for it now, but I’ve gone to work to be a social worker and I would say to anyone that they should seek treatment for it if they’ve had that experience, because they need to and it’s important.”
“… He knew my past and he still continued to do it.” – Anonymous senior in social work
Some survivors are faced with multiple instances of sexual assault, including one senior in social work who said she was assaulted on multiple occasions.
“It started probably my freshman year of high school, I had a boyfriend at the church, and I felt safe there, and he started basically molesting me until six months later I was on a missions trip and I felt safe enough to get away and say ‘don’t come around me anymore’ and I stopped going to church,” she said. “… Then that summer we went off to vacation, and he was like a towel boy or something that we had befriended … he molested me too and basically made me perform oral sex, and said that basically he would have raped me if he had a condemn. And then two times after that I was raped.”
The following two assaults occurred after high school when she was attending college, and they were both from people she knew.
“I was raped by a co-worker, I had went out with some friends, not him, some girl friends that aren’t even related to work, came home, I guess he knew where I lived, he was walking his dog by there … and as I was unlocking the door he just kind of pushed his way in, made himself to the bed, and it was just kind of from there. I was like ‘no, I don’t think so,’ and it didn’t really work,” she said. “And then the other time, it wasn’t much longer after that, I was dating this kid I had known since he had moved here in like junior high … and he got drunk one night and forced anal sex on me. I blatantly refused that, and he basically yelled back at me and told me that it would be fine, all this crap, and I was like no, I’m telling you no, and he knew my past and he still continued to do it. Once I finally got him off me, he was like ‘well I have to finish somehow,’ and he was angry at me until I just let him, and after that I just haven’t really seen him.”
“Basically, my whole life … I was abused.” – Anonymous junior in social work
Another common misconception about sexual assault is that men are seldom victims, but RAINN reports that one out of every 10 rape victims are male, and as of 1998 2.78 million men in the United States have been victims of rape or attempted rape. For one Pitt State junior in social work, sexual and physical abuse was a daily part of his life from a young age.
“Basically, my whole life, up until I was adopted at the age of 12, I was abused,” he said. “When I lived with my biological mom, my dad was out of the picture, and so she had boyfriends … one of them in particular I remember, he’s also my little brother and sister’s dad, one time I remember … he was sitting on the couch the rest of the night drinking. My sister and I went out to check on him because he wasn’t waking up or anything, and he woke up and he was really angry, and he tried to drown me in a bathtub. … I was four.”
From there, he was put in the foster care system along with his younger sister, where he began experiencing sexual abuse from other children in the foster homes.
“The very first foster homes I went to were the homes of my classmates, and (one of my classmates) … and his brother would beat me up every day after school, and then one day his older brother raped me,” he said. “I tried to tell the nanny what was going on … I remember she talked to the dad but I never saw her again, and after that I would just sit by the front door and wait for the police car to show up, because they’re the ones that took us, and I thought that maybe they’d take me away from here too.”
Over the next several years, he spent time in three other foster homes, all which he experienced sexual, emotional, and physical abuse in.
“The second foster home we were in I shared a room with a kid named Justin, and he was I would say he was probably about 13 or 14, and at this time I think I was six … and he would rape me on a daily basis, and sometimes he would rape his brother Alex,” he said. “Then eventually we went to another foster room, and again I shared a room with the guy raping me, and this time instead of it just being another foster kid it was their son. … One time the foster mom walked in and she saw her son on top of me, and he kind of froze and I climbed out from underneath him and I hid behind her and I said ‘help me,’ and she pushed me back towards him and she said ‘be a man’ and then she left. I remember the next day I went up to here and I said ‘why didn’t you help me?’ I don’t remember what she said, I just remembered that she yelled and then she hit me.”
The student said he was moved to one more foster home after that, where he turned eight years old and received a birthday cake for the first time he could remember. He also said that while there, he was raped daily until he was adopted at age 12.
“It was at that point that I just kind of gave up, and I decided telling people only made it worse, and just, fighting it only makes it worse, and it’s just easier to lay there and wait until it’s over,” he said. “And now, looking back on it, I wish I had told someone, because now I have PTSD and it’s hard to go through the day without something triggering it.”
Another reason the student gave for keeping his story silent for so long is the negative stigma he often faces with being a gay man and having people mistakenly associate his identify with his past of sexual abuse.
“It got really bad with my dad when I told him I was gay because he thought that I was gay because I was raped, and my mom kind of thought the same thing too, and after that I just stopped telling people because if people are going to associate your personal identity with something that happened to you, it’s just not really worth it, so after that I decided I never wanted to tell anyone again until I got here, and it’s been really hard, but I’ve tried to make the best of it,” he said.
“I was sexually assaulted.” – Anonymous freshman in graphics management
Sexual assault happens on college campuses as well. In addition to the two rapes reported to UPD last month at Pitt State, a freshman who wishes to remain anonymous reported a sexual assault to The Collegio last week. She said the incident took place Saturday, Sept. 22 around 1 a.m. in Tanner Annex.
“So, in Tanner Annex last Saturday, I was sexually assaulted … he was in the fraternity by Nation,” she said. “He decided to walk me home, I was super drunk, and I think he might have been drinking too, but it was the most drunk I’ve been in my life, and so he decided to walk me back. We get to my dorm, Tanner Annex, and we go back to my room, and he just wanted to hang out I guess, so I put a brick in the door because I didn’t know him too well. He kicks the brick out, locks the door, I was sitting on the bed. He jumps on top of me, sticks his hand in my pants and inside of me. There were some girls on my floor I think they knew what was happening, so they started pounding on the door and screaming. I convinced him to go back to the party just to make him stop, and so we went back to the party.”
The student said that they went back to the party at the fraternity house, where she said they were serving alcohol.
“There he tried to give me what he said was vodka and sprite, but it was yellow. I didn’t drink it,” she said. “Then he walked me back again, I don’t know what he was trying to do, I passed out in another girl’s room … I don’t remember but they said I went to their room and fell asleep on the floor there. … And then they told me that he was telling them about all the hard drugs and stuff that he’s done.”
There are several resources on Pitt State’s campus available for students who have or are experiencing sexual abuse. Stephanie Spitz serves as the Campus Victim Advocate and offers free, confidential services for students who want to talk to someone about their experiences.
“Some things that I do with clients really depends on what they would like to do for themselves moving forward. Sometimes they just want that person who can listen to them and support them without judgement, without blame, without any of those negative things that come with disclosing to people,” Spitz said. “… If someone has been a victim of violence, whether that is intimate partner violence or sexual violence, whatever that looks like, they don’t have to be alone through that process, I’m happy to be there and support them with whatever they need to do.”
One of the free services Spitz offers as the Campus Advocate is the PSU Survivor Community of Support meetings, which are held in a confidential location on campus at 5 p.m. on Mondays.
“… It’s really a nice time for survivors to get together and share in their experiences and empower one another,” Spitz said. “We do a lot of activities from art therapy to different self-care routines, healing, really things of that nature, it’s supposed to empower and heal and support instead of identifying by victimization.”
Spitz is required to file an online report indicating that an incident happened when a student comes to her for help, but she does not have to include the student’s name or other identifying factors. If the student wishes to proceed further with a Title IX investigation, Spitz can help them through that process as well.
Spitz can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 620-235-4831. Her office is located in the Student Health Center. The Safehouse Crisis Center in Pittsburg also offers confidential services and can be reached via their hotline at 1-800-794-9148.
Another campus resource is the peer group Students for Violence Prevention (SVP).
“We’re a student organization and the issues we deal with are mostly domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and the relationship spectrum which basically means whether a relationship is healthy, unhealthy, or abusive,” Talia Ayala-Feliciangeli, SVP president and senior in psychology, said.
Cindy Johnson and Jason Kegler are the Title IX coordinators at PSU and can help students who wish to report an incident. Kegler said that when an incident is reported, the university must take a neutral position until a party if found to be guilty.
“It’s important that it be noted that especially if the, we’ll call it the respondent in this case, is another student, that our process has to be neutral because it’s two of our own students, and so we can’t give the appearance that we’re moving one direction, or to one side or the other, we are completely neutral and we are just trying to best determine what happened based on all the information that we can gather,” Kegler said. “…We have to, until a student is found responsible, we have to be cautious with how we interact or any type of action by the university that can be seen as punitive by one party or the other.”
Kegler also encourages students to report any type of misconduct that occurs to the university so appropriate responses can be taken.
“I do want students to be aware that these types of things happen and that we encourage them to report to some entity, whether it be law enforcement or the campus advocate, whether it be us or a faculty or staff member, we encourage that reporting because that’s important and we understand that that’s important, so we want them to report,” Kegler said.