Sexual assault a real threat

by Erin Haller, News Editor

Sexual assault is nearly every woman’s worst nightmare. Women do whatever they can to protect themselves from the potential attacker looming in the shadows at night.

But what many women do not understand is that the biggest threat lies in acquaintance rape, a crime that accounts for approximately 85 percent of all rapes, according to Campus Outreach Services, a national organization aimed at eliminating gender violence.

“Unfortunately, we’re taught to be afraid of the unknown,” said Sara McMillan, counselor and advocate for Polk County Victim Services. “In actuality, most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.”

According to Chris Frerichs, director of campus security, there have been six reported forcible and non-forcible sexual assaults since 1997, with two reported this year.

While date rape is not a weekly occurrence on the Simpson College campus, it is still a threat to students that is sometimes overlooked. McMillan said up to one in three women will fall victim to sexual assault in their lifetime.

According to Campus Outreach Services, there is a rape on a college campus once every 21 hours. Women ages 16-24 are at the highest risk of being raped than any other population group. More specifically, a woman is more likely to be raped during her first two months of college.

Date-rape drugs

The high rate of date rape on college campuses can be attributed largely to the party atmosphere where alcohol is a common occurrence. While date-rape drugs such as GHB and Rohypnol receive the most press, alcohol is even more common in such situations.

“The biggest threat is alcohol,” said McMillan. “Too often we look to more exotic threats such as GHB and Rohypnol when studies show that alcohol is a more common occurrence.”

But date-rape drugs are still a very real threat. Rohypnol and GHB are the most commonly used drugs and the two that receive the most press. Being aware of these drugs is of the highest importance so women may protect themselves from the drugs and their dangerous effects.

“The biggest concern is the side effects of these drugs, particularly on women because they are typically smaller,” said Michelle Cross, college nurse. “When someone dumps it in alcohol it can produce additive effects. It depends on the person, but enough of anything can put you into a coma or possibly kill you.”

In the case of Rohypnol and GHB, the drugs can be dropped into drinks undetected. Both are odorless, colorless and, for the most part, tasteless. GHB is detectable only by a very slight salty taste.

While it is difficult to detect these drugs, it is more important to protect yourself from being given the drug in the first place.

“Students should always designate an individual who will be responsible for the health and safety of the other members of your group,” said Frerichs. “Do not go to social functions by yourself. Be aware of your surroundings. If you choose to drink, drink moderately.”

Be a survivor

While every precaution can be taken, rape still happens. The victim is never at fault for what happens.

Campus Outreach Services says that 85 percent of rapes involved physical force. Every woman is susceptible and every demographic falls victim.

What to do after a woman has been raped is more critical than any precaution she can take to prevent it.

“The only thing they have to do is survive it,” said McMillan. “The first thing she needs to do is tell someone she trusts and get help, whether it be from a parent, partner, friend or teacher.”

McMillan added that what a woman hears from the first three people she talks to after her rape will be the most influential in how she views her own rape.

“Those people need to listen and be supportive,” McMillan said.

She also said that while seeking the help of a trained professional can be helpful, women are often helped a great deal by a support group because it is “survivors helping survivors.”

“Professionals help, but its not the same,” said McMillan.

What to do

Immediately following a rape, a woman needs to undergo a medical examination, which Cross said can be just as traumatic as the rape itself but is necessary to collect evidence and screen for sexually transmitted diseases.

“The first reaction is to take a shower after the rape,” said Cross. “But a doctor needs to examine you to collect evidence in cases in which criminal charges will be filed. They need to get the guy’s DNA. It is also necessary to get you on medication to protect against STD’s.”

It is also necessary to report the incident to police and a member of the college staff. It is possible to pursue criminal charges, file a civil suit or receive victim compensation through the state’s victim compensation program. If the assault involved a student, the college would take further action.

“All students involved in the incident will be interviewed regarding the incident,” said Frerichs. “If there is reason to believe that a policy violation has occurred then an administrative hearing will be held by the college to determine if a student is responsible for violating the Student Code of Conduct.”

If the student in question is found responsible, Frerichs said he or she could be suspended or dismissed from the college. He also said the college will work in close cooperation with the police if the incident has been reported to them. He also emphasized that staff members will also emphasize confidentiality regarding the incident and those involved.

Taking action

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network emphasizes the need for every college or university to have an established campus-based sexual assault program. According to RAINN, each program should be set out with three goals in mind.

uEducate students, faculty and staff about sexual violence.

uPrevent sexual assaults involving members of the campus community.

uProvide an appropriate response when sexual assaults occur.

While Simpson does not have an established program aside from its planned response to accusations of sexual assault, Associate Dean of Students Stephanie Krauth is heading up a task force to develop a policy and a contingency plan.

“I have been working on this since I started this year and have been working over the past few weeks on contacting faculty, staff and students to make up this task force,” said Krauth.

Krauth said the policy would establish where the college stands on the matter and the repercussions of such actions. The contingency plan will guide the college through the process. It will lay out how the college will support students in such a situation, regardless of what side they are on in the matter.

“Right now we are seeing what other schools are doing and conducting research,” said Krauth.

McMillan said that among other things, education is the primary action schools should be taking on the issue of date rape.

“People need to know that they are in control of their bodies 100 percent of the time,” said McMillan. “Everyone needs to recognize that victims are not at fault.”