Anna (not her real name) recently wrote in
to talk about a difficult topic. “This is a serious issue,” she said, “and I think it’s important to talk about it.”
The issue was rape and sexual assault on campus – a serious one indeed, and one that Anna unfortunately had to deal with during her freshman year at a U.S. college.
I go to an all-girls college and I am from Latin America.
It was the beginning of my first semester and a college nearby threw a party. I drank a little too much before taking the bus to get there, and I drank on our way there. Would it be too much if I add that I kept on drinking as soon as I got there?
Anyway, I got there with a group of friends, we were all girls and the four of us were hammered. I remember talking to a couple of guys and after I don't know how long, I ended up talking to a guy my friends introduced me to. As I remember, I turned around to talk to him and when I turned back to my friends they were gone.
Since it was our first or second weekend there, we didn't have cellphones yet and we were all international students; so there I was, totally lost, hammered and talking to a guy I just met. I didn't even know how to get back to campus.
This guy told me they left me, and asked me if I wanted to go upstairs and try to find them or a friend through Facebook (yes, it sounds lame but given my state of mind I accepted). We went upstairs, and once there he offered me a beer and yes, I took it.
Next thing I know, I am waking up around 8 or 9 a.m. with the worst headache ever, with a guy I didn't know. I think I don't need to describe the scene but it was very shocking. I couldn't remember a thing and all I knew was I wanted to go back to my room where I felt safe and rest. I woke up this guy and asked him to take me to the bus stop. He refused so I became very annoying, and finally he accepted and took me there. Since it was Sunday, buses weren't running until later, so I had to wait.
I finally took the bus and got back to campus and straight to my room, I have to say it was the worst hangover ever in my life. I tried to remember what happened and how I ended up with this guy I didn't know. I am almost 100% sure he wasn't the same guy I was talking to.
When I got back, I decided to take a shower. There is where I got the worst surprise ever in my life. As I took my clothes off I started to notice hickies and bruises all over my body, even blood. I don't want to be too graphic, but yes, I think it happened.
I freaked out, trying to think what the hell happened and how the hell did it happen? I couldn't find any answers.
The college health center told Anna she had been “roofied.” Roofie is the slang term for Rohypnol, a sedative drug.
“People’s idea of a ‘real’ rape is a stranger jumping out of the bushes,” said Charlotte Muriel, the Women’s Center Coordinator and Victim Advocate at Lynn University. But on college campuses, most incidences of sexual assault are committed by someone the victim knows - sometimes even by someone they are dating. Often alcohol is involved.
Anna told me that during her freshman orientation she remembers hearing some talk about staying safe at parties, but said the conversation was the kind of thing most students don’t pay much attention to: “don’t drink too much and the red Solo cups and the lines and how much you should drink blah blah.”
Many students feel, as Anna did, that these cautions are obvious. “I think, unfortunately, a lot of students put blame on the victim,” said Muriel.” “They say, ‘I’d never take a drink from a stranger,’ when actually they would.”
Muriel worried that victims also often blame themselves for getting into such a situation. There is a lot of “fear and guilt,” she said, which can prevent victims from seeking help.
What do you do if this happens to you? According to Muriel, the most important thing is to take care of your health care needs within the first 72 hours. Most students can use their school health services, or get a free rape exam at a hospital.
A lot of colleges also have counseling services available for students, which are usually free, and “counselors have confidentiality so they can’t tell anyone.”
Anna said she had no idea about the proper measures to take, but went to her college’s health center because she didn’t know what else to do.
My school's health center offered me all the measures, precautions and methods and examinations needed. They asked me if I wanted to prosecute and referred me to the counseling service, which I refused at first.
My school was very supportive, even academically, since sometimes it was really hard to focus. The counselor, nurses and dean were extremely helpful. Eventually I agreed on seeing a counselor since it was unbearable and classes and social life became hard to deal with.
About two weeks after the incident, swim season started. I had an extreme breakdown once before practice after seeing the counselor, and my coach and coach assistant were EXTREMELY supportive and helpful. Although they didn't know exactly what happened, I think they had an idea, and they were really nice.
I found a way to make the swim team my refuge; swim practice my time off of real life, my meditation time. My coach became a very important figure. Although we weren't close or anything, he became the person I knew would pick me up if I fell, the person I could talk to and trust in. Although I never did, I knew if I ever needed to talk about it to someone besides my counselor, he would be the one.
I didn't want to prosecute because I think I clearly put myself in that situation. Although most of my schoolmates wouldn't agree with me, it was. My schoolmates take this situation very seriously and believe that "No means no." In the U.S. the topic of rape is treated very delicately and can lead to very serious discussions.
The U.S. is a great opportunity and has great education standards, but it also has its flaws. I still don't know who did this to me; if it was the guy I left with or the one I woke up with. I don't know if it was one or more than one. I don't know why he did it and honestly I don't want to.
Anna said her school offered her several additional services that she chose not to use – an escort to help her feel safe walking on campus, legal avenues if she wanted to pursue charges, and information about off-campus support groups.
Colleges in the U.S. are “very helpful and sympathetic, from teachers, to staff, to students,” Anna noted. She addedd that most people in Latin America don’t talk about rape, and many universities don’t offer counseling services.
According to Muriel, international students may come to the U.S. from cultures where it is taboo to divulge an incidence of rape, but telling someone what happened is absolutely vital. Even among American students, she said, “A lot of people don’t tell anyone, and then they end up dropping out of school or dropping out of clubs.”
Anna also pointed out that on-campus rape is rarely an issue back home, because most universities don’t have dorms. Muriel agreed that campus culture in the U.S. can be quite different. “Here there is a lot of partying and drinking,” which many international students might not be prepared for.
[Read more about the prevalence of drinking at U.S. colleges
Anna’s advice to students coming to the U.S.:
Be careful while you are there, I am not saying to not go out or drink, but just be careful. Rape is a big thing over there, just be careful. Don't exceed your limits, there is no need to. Hang out with friends you trust and clearly won't leave you on your own if you are in bad shape, and take care of yourself. Remember it's a different culture, a different society, and you are new to all that, and perhaps even a little more fragile since it’s a different country.
Thanks for reading.