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UNSPEAKABLE

Sexual assault victims voice their stories about a prevalent and underreported threat

The Battalion

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07

sex assault

Graphics by Jorge Montalvo and Osa Okundaye

As many as 95% of all sexual assaults are unreported

sex assault 2

Graphics by Jorge Montalvo and Osa Okundaye

sex assault 3

Graphics by Jorge Montalvo and Osa Okundaye


Editor's note: The Battalion does not publish the names or identifying information of rape and sexual assault victims. The names of victims and assailants included in this article were altered to protect the subjects' identities.

An hour later, she’s curled up in a ball in the corner of her shower, surrounded by curtains of steam as scalding hot water pours down from above. Her clothes, ripped and torn, lay in a soggy pile in the shower’s opposite corner. She reaches for a washcloth and begins scrubbing her bare skin, rubbing her flesh raw until traces of blood swirl around the drain.

The shakes begin next — first just her hands, but soon her entire body is trembling. As the trauma-induced haze begins to clear, there is only one question on her mind.

“What happened?”

This must stop.

“Young women being raped is no new thing at A&M,” said Beth, Class of 2009. “When I attended A&M, I knew more girls who had been raped or sexually assaulted than girls who had not been harmed. This must stop.”

According to a 2010 investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, one in five female college students will be a victim of a rape or an attempted rape by the time she graduates. However, less than 5 percent of rapes or attempted rapes that occur during college are reported to police.

In October 2004, Beth was introduced to James, also an A&M student, through some of her coworkers at a local restaurant. One evening, Beth and a group of her friends went to James’ house for drinks and to watch movies. As the evening progressed, the partygoers began leaving until only James and Beth remained. Alone in the house, they sat on the couch in the living room and began watching a movie.

“It was about 20 minutes into the movie when James made his first move,” Beth said. “I was attracted to him, so I went with it.”

Beth soon realized that James was far from sober. She told him she was not comfortable with any touching below the belt. James, however, grew more aggressive.

“He kept trying to force me to go further than I was comfortable with even though I was telling him to stop,” Beth said. “Before I realized it, I was shouting and trying to push him off of me.”

James ignored her protests. He held her down and ripped off most of her clothes. As he positioned himself above her, Beth managed to pull one of her legs free and knee him in the stomach. Unprepared for the blow, James doubled over gasping for breath. Beth seized the opportunity and clawed herself out from underneath him.

“I’ll always remember scrambling across the floor on all fours, trying to reach the door while grabbing my clothes,” Beth said. “James was leaning over the coach, coughing and saying, ‘You asked for this.’”

Escaping James’ house, Beth got in her car and arrived home to an empty apartment. She immediately went to the bathroom where she sat in the shower for more than an hour, crying and scrubbing her skin raw. In the morning, she threw her torn clothes into the trash can outside her apartment. Instead of reporting the incident or telling her friends, Beth tried to ignore the assault and continued on as if it had never happened.  

“Until the day I die, I will regret not going to police,” Beth said.

Beth later discovered her experience with James was not an isolated event. The next weekend he attempted to sexually assault another girl and succeeded. Weeks later, James went to trial for drugging and assaulting two girls — a 17-year-old and a 16-year-old.

 “I can’t help but think that if I had reported James, maybe he wouldn’t have had a chance to rape those two young girls,” Beth said.

Sexual assault is not about sex

In April 1986, Lehigh University freshman Jeanne Clery was raped and murdered in her dorm room on the Bethlehem, Pa., campus. Acting in her memory, the U.S. Congress passed the Clery Act in 1990. The act requires universities that receive federal funding to publish an annual report disclosing information on any criminal activity occurring on or near campus.

According to the 2011 Clery report, Texas A&M recorded 12 forcible sex offenses during the past three years. Compiled by the University Police Department, the Clery Act’s reporting of sexual assaults is limited by the number of victims who report their assault and the boundaries of campus. Assaults that occur off campus, where more than 80 percent of students live, may not be included.

Some students who suffer a sexual assault turn to university-provided counseling, even though they will not report the attack to the police. The Student Counseling Service in Cain Hall provides a variety of free services to A&M students. The University employs seven counselors and 14 psychologists and is regarded as one of the best college counseling centers in the country.

“Every semester is different,” said Maggie Gartner, who has her doctorate in counseling psychology and is the executive director at the Student Counseling Service. “On average we see about 30 people a semester who have been sexually assaulted.”

Counseling with certified psychologists remains confidential and is not reported to authorities even when the patient receives counsel following a sexual attack. Gartner, who is a licensed psychologist in the states of Texas and Washington, said freshmen, in particular, are at risk.  

“The most dangerous time in a woman’s life is between the time she first leaves home for college and the first holiday, which for Texas A&M is Thanksgiving,” Gartner said.

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