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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

Statistics compiled by the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network reveal that girls between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely to be victims of a sexual assault than the rest of the general population. Furthermore, 80 percent of rapes are committed against women under 30.

Based on the ages of the victims, a common assumption persists that rapes are the result of an outburst of suppressed or frustrated sexuality. This is not accurate, according to Cary Haynes, director of center programs at the Brazos County Sexual Assault Resource Center.

“Sexual assault is not about sex,” said Haynes, Class of 2005. “It’s about power. It’s about asserting control over somebody else.”

Founded in 1981, the Sexual Assault Resource Center offers free and confidential services to victims, friends, family and anyone affected by sexual violence in the Brazos Valley. Directions to the center can be obtained by scheduling an appointment via phone or email.

“We keep our location confidential because we deal with a very sensitive topic,” Haynes said. “We don’t want somebody to be identified as a survivor of sexual assault because they walk through our door.”

In addition to maintaining a 24-hour hotline and providing counseling, the center employees also educate the community about sexual assaults, correcting common misconceptions.

“The biggest myth about rape is that it’s committed by a stranger in the dark alley,” Haynes said. “The reality is that most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, someone they trust.”

Among the cases reported to the authorities, more than 80 percent of sexual assault victims knew their attacker. When the relationship between the victim and the offender is close, the likelihood that the rape will not be reported increases exponentially.

“The most common response I hear when I ask girls who’ve been assaulted why they didn’t report it is, ‘I don’t want to ruin [the attacker’s] life,’” Haynes said. “And all I can think is, ‘But he raped you. He ruined your life.’”

A sexual predator’s tactics

During her sophomore year, Rebecca, Class of 2009, attended a party thrown by David, a casual friend, at a student living apartment complex. Alcohol was readily available at the party and Rebecca began drinking almost immediately. David, however, only had a couple of beers. As Thursday transitioned to Friday, many of the partygoers left the residence to go to Northgate.

Realizing she had already exceeded her alcohol limit, Rebecca declined to join the group. After everyone had left, she turned to David for help.

“I had too many drinks and I knew wasn’t sober enough to drive home,” Rebecca said. “I told David that I probably needed to stay over and he said, ‘Well, you’ll have to have sex with me.’ I said ‘No’ and he was like, ‘Fine, good luck getting home.’”

Rebecca walked out of the apartment and made her way to her vehicle. Overcome with nausea, she realized she wasn’t fit to exit the complex’s driveway, much less make the 15-minute drive to her house. David walked to the driveway and led the inebriated Rachel back into his apartment.

“I kept on saying ‘I don’t want to do this,’ and ‘Please don’t do this,’ but I was drunk and he was stronger than me,” Rebecca said. “Then he took off my clothes and laid on top of me. He made me have sex with him.”

Almost all sexual assault cases reported to Student Counseling Services and the Sexual Assault Resource Center involve alcohol or another sedating substance.

While alcohol is by far the most common, date rape drugs such as Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate, known as GHB, and Rohypnol are both illegal in the U.S. and are unknowingly consumed when dissolved in a drink. GHB and Rohypnol are central nervous system depressants that decrease the victim’s inhibitions or subdue the victim to the point of unconsciousness. Both drugs leave the human body within 72 hours of ingestion and are difficult to detect.

Forensic examination

If a victim chooses to report the assault, forensic evidence can be collected up to 72 hours after the incident, provided the victim has not bathed or douched. Evidence is collected through a sexual assault forensic exam, which is administered by a medical doctor or sexual assault nurse examiner. Nurse examiners are registered nurses trained by the Texas Office of the Attorney General to provide sensitive and comprehensive care to survivors. There is one certified nurse examiner on-call for the Brazos Valley — a region that includes seven counties and more than 300,000 residents.

During a forensic exam, the victim’s body is considered to be a crime scene. For this reason, friends and family members are not allowed to be present in the examination room. Victims may be accompanied by an advocate — a specially trained volunteer provided and trained by the Sexual Assault Resource Center.  

“Every time I’ve been called out as an advocate, it has been for a college-age student,” Haynes said.

Advocates help survivors by providing support during the sexual assault exam and accompany survivors to law enforcement agencies upon request. Advocates must complete 40 hours of training, focusing extensively on the sexual assault exam process, before they are allowed to have client contact.

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