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Joe Terrell: Reporting on sexual assaults challenges me

Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07

Joe Terrell

Joe Terrell is a junior telecommunications media studies major and The Battalion enterprise editor for spring 2012.

An English teacher who knew I wrote for The Battalion pulled me aside after class last semester. She told me she might have a story for me. Nothing could have prepared me for what followed.

She said several of her female students in recent years had confided, separately, that they had been raped — all during their first semester at A&M.

Her words and ideas initiated my personal investigation into the prevalence of sexual assaults among college students, which involved four months of research, more than a dozen interviews, four articles and at least one heated argument with a high-ranking University official.

Early in my investigation, a counselor warned me to “watch out for myself.” Unwisely, I brushed aside her advice, not fully comprehending the gravity of her words.

After interviewing a handful of sexual assault survivors, I started having nightmares that involved the people I loved. I lost weight and suffered intermittent mood swings.

Immersing myself in the depths of human depravity, I neglected to reflect on my own well being. When you stare into the darkness, the darkness tends to stare back. This is what the counselor tried to warn me about.

After publishing the first article, I received a number of Facebook messages, emails and texts from women wishing to share their stories with me. Some were friends. I quickly learned to dread these exchanges.

Sometimes, I’d let the messages sit in my inbox, unopened for days, until I had the nerve to brace myself for another story of heartbreak and abuse.

I was probably too sensitive to explore this topic. My heart breaks for every one of the students I interviewed and the countless others who have yet to share their voice.

However, as the dust settles and all is said and done, I’m left with the remnants of a difficult experience that deserve to be shared.

To the male readers: statistics show that one of every four women in your life has experienced some form of sexual abuse. Think of your friends, your sisters, your girlfriend, your family members and your future spouse.

Does your heart break now? We need to declare war on sexual assault.

To women who have been abused: I want to stress that what happened to you was not your fault. Instead of being treated with the dignity and respect you deserve, someone you most likely trusted took advantage of you in the worst way possible. But your story doesn’t have to end there. You are not defined by what someone did to you.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to tell somebody about what happened. Talk to a friend, a relative or a counselor. This journey is not one you were meant to make alone.

I’m proud of my generation’s heartbeat for social justice.  But we can be passionate about injustice around the world and forget that there is evil occurring right here — on this campus and in the city we call home.

Sexual assault is an issue everywhere, and ignorance will perpetuate the problem. The people who commit these crimes count on us to pretend the issue doesn’t exist.   

It is bothersome that most sexual assault cases in the A&M community go unreported. But it is immature to place the blame solely on the shoulders of the University or victims.

We haven’t gone far enough to create a healthy environment for victims to speak out. Every woman I interviewed told me she didn’t want to report her assault because she didn’t want people to know she wasn’t a virgin.

 A significant portion of our Aggie family is hurting. With this knowledge, it’s our responsibility and obligation to help.

 

Joe Terrell is a junior telecommunications media studies major and The Battalion enterprise editor for spring 2012.

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