She never imagined that her first time having sex would end in a used condom being flung far into the night from an apartment balcony. But that night, she lost her virginity at 17 years old on a filthy stained couch to a 21-year-old with a criminal record, all while she had been under the influence of an unknown substance — perhaps most significantly, the sex was without her consent.
That’s the story of an anonymous junior elementary education major at the College.
“It was really romantic when there was no trash can,” she said sarcastically. “Yes, no trash can, so he threw the used condom off the balcony outside.”
Unfortunately, her case is not as uncommon as many may think. One in four women is or will become a victim to sexual assault in her college career, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice.
And the statistics are not much better at the College. According to a 2009 survey conducted on campus, one in five women and one in 10 men are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking, said Robbin Loonan, coordinator of the College’s Office of Anti-Violence Initiatives.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, two-thirds of assaults are committed by a person whom the victim knows.
“A stranger … jumping out from behind a proverbial bush wearing a proverbial ski mask, with a proverbial gun, right? That’s what rape is,” said a 2001 alumna and sexual assault survivor at the unveiling of an anti-sexual violence art exhibit at the College in April. “But that’s not how it happened to me, and that’s not how it happens to the majority of those who survive sexual assault every year.”
For all College students, there are a variety of resources available to victims of sexual assault. The Office of Anti-Violence Initiatives, or OAVI, has group and individual counseling programs for survivors. OAVI also advocates with professors on behalf of victims if they are falling behind in classes because of their assault.
Loonan emphasizes that talking about assault can help victims to cope. Yet friends and family members of survivors have a role to play as well.
“If you know somebody who discloses, believe them,” Loonan said. “If you don’t believe them a hundred percent or you have questions, then refer them to somebody else who they can talk to, rather than say some things you can’t take back.”
A campaign sponsored by OAVI, called “Green Dot,” advocates for bystander intervention against sexual violence on campus. “Green dots” are steps that all students can take to prevent sexual violence, as opposed to “red dots,” which involve actions that perpetuate sexual violence.
According to OAVI’s brochure on the “Green Dot” campaign, “green dots” are meant to symbolize actions such as “(talking) to friends about consent” and “(calling) for help if you see someone getting physical with his/her partner.”
“A ‘red dot’ is having sex without someone’s consent,” Loonan said. “‘Red dot’ is a push, a slap, intimidating, threatening behavior.”
Loonan also believes that it is important to educate the public about mutual consent before a sexual relationship is pursued. A “yes” to sex must be enthusiastic and unhindered, she said. Often, victims feel threatened or pressured to the point where they agree to sex, even when it is not what they truly want.
“Consent is not only saying yes … because sometimes we know that saying yes or absence of saying anything does not mean yes,” Loonan said. “Similarly, (it’s not consent) if someone is drunk or under the influence … They don’t have to be physically forced, but they’re being intimidated in some way, or coerced into saying yes or not saying no.”
But despite the emotional roller coaster ride that results from sexual assault, many survivors agree that life gets better.
“In your darkest days, in the blackest of nights, how you come through it into the light really … shows you strength that you never thought you had,” the 2001 alumna said. “How I’ve come out of a lot of this is to be a realist who is just hopelessly, hopelessly hopeful. Don’t lose your hope.”