According to Appalachian State University, "17.7 million American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape" and "1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime." RAINN.org states that 68 percent of sexual assaults do not get reported to the police, and 98 percent of rapists do not spend a day in jail. Not to mention the stigma rape victims face, generating such things as slut-shaming, victim blaming, and being accused of making the assault up. Ever since singer Kesha's lawsuit against producer Dr. Luke became public, along with the accusations she made on him emotionally and physically abusing her, fans and celebrities have been incredibly supportive during her time of need. Sexual assault has become too common on college campuses as well.
"When I was assaulted, I have never felt more violated and disappointed in my entire life," said Ava*, a student who attends Medgar Evers College. Ava is a fellow English major who dreams of being an English Professor one day. She was willing to share her story and how her assault affected her life.
"It was three and a half months before graduation. I was 18 at the time. We were driving around and decided to go to his apartment to hang out after school one day, and next thing you know, it happened." She stated. "He was on top of me, and as it was happening, I felt pain. It was a constant pain happening, and I couldn't deal with it. I needed to stop. I told him to stop, but he wouldn't listen. He kept going and I once again told him to stop, even tried pushing him off me. He wouldn't budge. He just continued, and I froze. I didn't know what to do. So I gave in. He was my first."
The person Ava is talking about is her ex-boyfriend. They were only together for a short time before the incident. After the assault, they stayed together for a month before he ended the relationship. They were on good terms for six months before she decided that she wanted to cut ties altogether.
"I met a new guy here (at Medgar), and I told him what happened, and after I had finished, he looked me in my eyes and said that it sounded like sexual assault to him. At that moment, my heart stopped." Ava substituted the word "rape" with "assault." She doesn't feel comfortable using the word yet. "It makes me feel disgusting," she admits. "Whenever my friends are around, and they make jokes about sexual assault, I get extremely uncomfortable. I don't find them to be funny at all. It is one of the most horrific and emotionally damaging situations that could happen to a person."
"When you've been assaulted, the aftermath is filled with denial. At least for me, it was. I remember the first few days after I opened up about my assault, I was depressed, but I was angrier than anything else. I would ask myself over and over again, 'How could I let this human being violate my body and STILL stay with him and be his friend?' I was mad at myself and him for a long time," Ava revealed. "I remember being angry for a long time until a friend told me that it's okay for me to be mad right now, and that one day I might forgive him. I laughed and said, 'Not a chance in hell.' Well, turns out that friend was right. I decided to text that person, and I told them that I forgive them for myself, not for them. They responded quickly and said that they understood and thanked me for the text. It was strange." Most people wouldn't be able to contact the person that assaulted them and forgave them. For Ava, she stated that it "needed to happen." When asked who knew about the rape, she replied, "Only my close friends, my boyfriend, and my ex's friends, because he told them." When asked if her family knew, Ava revealed that they didn't know and that she doesn't plan to say it to them anytime soon.
"My family doesn’t know. I don't want to see the looks on their faces and to hear what they would say. I feel like they would be disappointed in me, and I don't want that," she said.
Ava has also spoken to a counselor on campus about the assault after her boyfriend told her that he felt as if she was uncomfortable or terrified of him. "He assumed I was afraid of him, but I'm not; I just didn't like being touched, which was a problem sometimes. I remember whenever he wanted to smother me with kisses, I would start to say 'No,' and when he wouldn't stop, I would say deafeningly, 'I am saying No!' and he would cease immediately and ask me if I was okay. We talked about this for a while, and I decided to go to counseling, and it has helped me. I haven't been back for a while and I really should. It did help me improve more than I was before."
Ava reveals that lately, she has been wanting to start a foundation where people who have been sexually assaulted can go and get the help they deserve; something she wishes she had been able to receive herself after the attack happened. "Besides being a professor, I would love to open a counseling center for people who have been abused emotionally or physically. It's something I plan on doing one day."
Most victims are afraid of the stigma assault brings and for Ava, she was the same way. "Honestly, I was afraid that if people found out, I would be ostracized and ridiculed for it. I didn’t want to be labeled and slut-shamed for what happened to me, like most people usually are. Instead, people have been supportive and understanding about my situation. It's been comforting."
As for the person that assaulted her?
"People found out, and they either are still on good terms with him or are staying as far away from him as possible. The only reason I know, that is because he called me one night and told me this. I was annoyed that he called me in the middle of the evening to tell me this, but I saw this coming a mile away; no one wants to date someone who has sexually assaulted someone before. Unless they don’t believe the victim."
There are times that women will lie about being sexually assaulted for selfish reasons, and that leads to women being shamed and accused of lying. That type of response speaks volumes to a victim. It shows that people are willing to second-guess a victim's story because they think back to stories of women lying about being assaulted, and they will side with the rapists. That is why 68 percent of casualties are silent about the attack.
As long as people keep shaming the victims for what happened, nothing will change. One out of four college students are sexually assaulted, and that should not be happening. People who pay money to live on a campus for an entire year want to feel safe, and when sexual assault is becoming more common on those campuses, it becomes a problem for those who feel like it could happen to them any moment.
More colleges should have the talk about sexual assault with not only students but with their faculty as well. They need to pull up the statistics on sexual assault and how common it can be on their campus. As a person who has friends that attend colleges all over the country, I think people should be able to attend schools that really do believe sexual assault is a serious crime and makes sure that those who commit it are punished.
"Being assaulted was an awful experience, but out of this tragedy were some positives," Ava said. "I'm more aware of who to bring around my friends and myself. I met a new guy who is so kind and patient with me, I made this new life for myself, and I cut ties with those who bring nothing but negativity in my life." Ava has cut all ties with the person who assaulted her. She is more focused on school and her future. While the assault will always be in the back of her mind, she doesn't let it get her down.
"I would always think back to that moment when I was talking to the guy and he said it was a misunderstanding. A 'misunderstanding?' How is me saying stop and you still going a misunderstanding? If a woman says 'No' or 'Stop,' she wants you to stop. It's as simple as that."
When asked about any advice she has for those who have been assaulted, Ava had this to say:
"It is an experience that no one should have to go through. Right now it sucks, but you will be able to move on and rise above the situation. It will take some time and a strong support system, but it is possible. It's okay to go to the police and report it, and it's okay to stand up and fight for your rights. Speak to a counselor and do your research on sexual assault, because it's your body and if someone touches you or forces themselves on you, that's awful and you have every right to be angry and seek help. You are too strong to let this break you. All victims are."
For more information on sexual assault, statistics, and much more, click on the links below:
*Names have been changed in order to protect identities.