April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month which affords us a specific opportunity to break the silence of sexual violence and reinforce the need for prevention efforts.
TTC is committed to having truthful conversations even when they contain tough topics that are often silenced and hidden in our society. In this blog post, we will explore sexual violence and provide information on what to do when you or someone you know has experienced it. Both victim and perpetrator suffer when sexual violence occurs.
Rape culture affects all of us. In a country where our president has been accused of sexual assault, it is more important than ever to bring awareness to this reality. Four women have come out against Donald Trump and are pursuing legal recourse. Last year, a 2005 recording leaked in which Trump bragged about kissing women (“I don’t even wait”); as well as how easy it is for celebrities to “grab them by the pussy” because, “they let you do it.”
In the following interview, we turn our attention to Hailey, a courageous teenage girl, who has taken action in her high school.
Hailey is a senior on an island in the Pacific Northwest who started a campus club called “Students United Against Sexual Violence” whose mission is to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault in her community and to prevent assault from happening. Early on in our interview we learned about Hailey’s motivation for starting the club. Two years earlier, Hailey was forcibly raped by a friend during a casual hangout. She’s suffered through the pain of hiding her rape; the pain of coming out with it — and now works to help others. Unfortunately, Hailey is not alone. There are heartbreaking stories of rape just like hers all around the world.
Statistics on rape and other sexual assaults are notoriously difficult to calculate due to inconsistent definitions of rape, different rates of reporting, and a variety of other issues. For example, some countries may not criminalize marital rape. In some countries, women do not report rape because they fear retaliation or persecution (Honor Killings) or prosecution due to laws against premarital sex. Across the world, there may be a general distrust in local law enforcement to handle the case, which magnifies the trauma.
In Hailey’s case, there was distrust of local law enforcement because the perpetrator was an intern at the police department. Her case was never reported just like so many others. In fact, it is estimated that 54% are not reported.
- Low estimate of the number of women raped every year according to the Department of Justice: 300,000
- High estimate of the number of women raped every year according to the Center of Disease Control: 1.3 million
- A woman’s chance of being raped in the U.S.: 1 in 5
- Percentage of men who have been raped: 3 percent (1 in 33 chance)
- Percentage of rapists who are never incarcerated: 97 percent
TTC: Thank you, Hailey, for meeting with us! We are excited to hear about the Students United Against Sexual Violence club you started at your high school. Why was it important to you to start this club?
H: In my sophomore year, I was raped. He was a friend of mine. He knew my parents, I mean, we were friends for a long time. One day, we were driving home and he said, “Hey, I want to show you this cool place I found.” I was like, “Ok sure,” because this is something that kids do; we show each other cool abandoned places, views of the water and stuff like that. So he drives us there. It was an old deserted patio overlooking the water and he forcibly raped me there. We were just hanging out. I didn’t really know that was going to happen.
He grabbed me and threw me against the railing, shaking me, and yelling at me. I felt stuck. I didn’t know where I was so I couldn’t really leave. He was pushing me so hard against the post it was starting to hurt my back. I was telling him to stop. He didn’t. He continued. It was physically so painful and I was so scared. When it was over, he told me to “Get in the fucking car” and he dropped me off at my friend’s house.
TTC: Did he threaten you if you told anybody?
H: I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. He worked at the police station as an intern answering phones and he had access to files. My parents found out a year later when I had a break down. I got caught at school with drugs. My dad was like, “What is going on? I know something is triggering this.” So I told them. I didn’t tell them who it was but I think they may have figured it out by going through my phone.
In the US, victims are not reporting for the following reasons:
- 20% feared retaliation
- 13% believed the police would not do anything to help
- 13% believed it was a personal matter
- 8% reported to a different official
- 8% believed it was not important enough to report
- 7% did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble
- 2% believed the police could not do anything to help
- 30% gave another reason, or did not cite one reason
TTC: So, what happened with the guy?
H: I kind of felt like I had to keep up appearances because he was in the same friend group. When I told my friends, they stopped inviting him places. Didn’t bother him much; he had a bunch of other friends. He was a typical all American guy, popular, jock. He’s at college now. I guess it just sort of got buried.
TTC: How do feel you toward him now?
H: Super pissed! I had a few conversations with him about it at first but he kind of shut it down. After a while he was like, “Okay, okay, I guess that’s what happened, I’m sorry.” For me that wasn’t enough.
TTC: How do you think that’s affecting you now?
H: More than anything the experience has empowered me. I started a club at my high school called Students United Against Sexual Violence. The school won’t let me fundraise yet because the club has to be around for a year before it can become an official club. One of the club’s sponsors is the mother of the guy who raped me. She comes to our meetings and helps pay for our events but she has no idea that it was her son. My parents never confronted his parents, I wouldn’t let them. It’s so hard to be in meetings with her and openly talk about my experience looking at her face which looks so much like his. I don’t want to tell her because I am afraid she will stop giving us money and the club will be closed.
At the same time, I met one of my current best friends through the club. She came up to me at school and said she needed an older girl to talk to about being raped. I worked with her and two days later she told her parents. We’ve become such great friends. I realized that I could be helping people like her. I want to be making a difference. That’s something our generation wants to do – make a difference with our work. I think that outweighs the stress of having to work with this woman.
TTC: Wow! What a story of transmutation! Taking your pain and turning it into something that can really help people. Tell us more about your club at school.
H: The school threatened to shut the club down because they said sexual assault wasn’t happening until I came along. One school administrator would single me out and harass me anytime I was talking to a girl, even when the campus police where present. There was one time she came up to the campus detective when a girl was reporting a case and said, “Hailey is just trying to make up cases and have all these girls report it to make a scene at my school.” The detective said, “If you are not nice to Hailey, I can take your job away.” She kept giving me a bunch of crap. When we made a website, she blocked it from the school district. Eventually she was fired. The school officials told her that she had to meet with them on Friday and she knew what was coming. The day she was supposed to meet them, they came in to her office and it was empty. The rest of the school just thinks she quit because the official statement was that she was going into a new phase of her life…. but the school admin told me what happened.
TTC: Would you ever consider telling this woman that it was her son who raped you?
H: I was considering telling her next year. The only reason our club is around is because of her advocacy. The school told us that they would shut the club down and that I could get in academic trouble because they didn’t like that I was bringing this negative attention to our student population. Until this summer, when I started talking about it, there were very few rape reports. Just this fall, four girls reported to the school administration, “I can’t be in this class because this boy has raped me.” I think they just don’t want to admit it’s a problem. They make it difficult for me to promote the club.
For example, all school clubs are allowed to hang up posters as long as they don’t have any nudity, drugs, or swear words. I had a poster with our club name and meeting time and the office said we couldn’t hang them up. The day before I was hanging posters for another club and the office was so supportive. So, when they said no to the Students United Against Sexual Violence club posters, I was like, “This is not okay!” I gave them a lot of push back. My parents’ friends who were lawyers sent a letter to the school about all the legalities that they are breaking. The school’s response? They gave us permission to hang two posters. The limit for every other club is 12… so I said, “No, I want to be treated the same way the other clubs are being treated.”
Eventually, it all worked out but there was a ton of resistance I had to get through. That’s why it’s so important to have this one advisor support us. I know that they are going to make it so much harder for us to be a formal ASB club next year. Once things fall into place with the club, I may tell her that it was her son who raped me.
TTC: Do you think he will do this to someone else?
H: I think he is scared as hell. He saw that perfect opportunity to do it but then he saw how much shit I brought to the table. I don’t think he would do it again but I can’t be sure.
TTC: What do you think about when people say, “she asked for it”?
H: I hate it when people say that “she asked for it.” If I were to get mugged tomorrow and somebody stole my purse, I would immediately call my mom and ask for her help. If I were on that same street and someone pulled me into an alleyway and raped me, the last thing I would want to do is tell my mom.
TTC: Why do you think so many girls don’t tell their parents?
H: I felt like I was letting my parents down… and I still haven’t really figured out why. No parent wants to hear that their child was raped. I have seen my parents cry over it and know that I have caused them sadness. I don’t feel responsible for what happened to me but knowing that the people I love and the people who love me are hurt by my coming out with it makes me feel like I should keep it to myself.
Also, a common complaint is that when you do tell your parents, they begin to freak out and I think that’s where a lot of the victim shaming comes in. Like with my parents when I told them, they were like, “Okay, you are just not going out again!” I felt like I did something bad and was being punished. My friend’s parents took her phone, read all of her text messages, and won’t let her out past 11pm because they’re scared – it’s understandable to be scared but it just makes the kid feel like they are being grounded for getting raped and that goes into the huge subconscious place of victim shame. I actually want to start educating parents on how to treat their kids who have been raped and what to do.
For a primer on how to talk to kids about sexual assault, please check out these resources:
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). For more resources on sexual assault, visit RAINN, End Rape on Campus, Know Your IX, and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Please help TTC continue our work bringing to light the dark truths of sexual assault this month on social media and in conversations. It is especially critical to talk to the youth about consent, mutual respect for bodies, and how they might advocate for awareness amongst their peer groups. We ask that adults educate themselves on how to talk with the youth, how to help, and how to listen compassionately, without overreacting, during these sensitive conversations.
Thank you for taking the time and care to help us raise awareness and create a safe and loving world for all.