Column: Under-reported rape

After a sexual assault, survivors are told to call the police, get the support of their friends, seek medical help, press charges and avoid taking a shower. This is great advice that will help survivors. But what if they shower, don’t have a rape kit done, don’t tell anyone and time goes by?

We live in a society that expects instant punishment for the rapist and instant reporting from the survivor. However, this does not always happen and many survivors feel that if they did not immediately report the rape, they aren’t left with other choices.

All survivors have options, whether they decide to report the sexual assault or not. The victims’ advocates at the Campus Violence Prevention Program (CVPP) offer support, information and assistance with living situations, academic settings and health.

CVPP also provides guidance to other campus resources such as Student Judicial Affairs (SJA) and UC Davis Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). CVPP resources are confidential and free to any UC Davis student (both undergraduate and graduate), staff and faculty.

It’s important to realize that no matter how important pressing charges is, it is equally important to take care of your own well-being. Just because you didn’t take immediate action doesn’t mean you are unable to heal.

I interviewed a woman who was raped at four years old.

“When she held the knife against my neck, I wasn’t thinking about what she was doing, I was thinking I was afraid of the knife. Afterwards I kept thinking, ‘She said if I told anyone, she would stab me with the knife.’ So I never told anyone, ‘til about 30 years later,” she said.

We are taught what to do in the immediate, but those lessons often disregard the long-term effects of sexual violence.

Our society presses that we shouldn’t “invite rape.” Don’t wear those clothes, don’t walk in that neighborhood, don’t act like that. This shaming implies that if a rape does occur, the fault lies with the victim, rather than the rapist. It conditions us to assume responsibility over something that ultimately we are not responsible for — someone else’s unacceptable actions.

California rape law criminalizes any sex act that occurs without the consent of at least one sex partner. This includes instances when the suspect used physical force, false representation, intimidation and threats — or if the victim is unaware that the sex act is occurring, intoxicated, unable to make informed decisions or has a mental or physical impairment.

Sexist assumptions can harm survivors. Victims are often thought of as weak, young passive females while rapists are seen as strong, male strangers.
The concept that victims are partly responsible for rape, are women and must report immediately can produce feelings of shame in people who don’t fulfill these requirements. The reality of the situation — according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) — is that two out of three rape victims know their rapist and one in every ten victims is male. It is extremely likely that you or someone you are close to has been a victim of sexual violence.
About every two minutes, someone is raped in the United States. Be conscious that your own actions have an impact on not only your own future, but the future of other rape victims. Stop believing in myths about rape and break the silence.

The healing process does not require, nor end at, an immediate response. Whether you are one of the 54 percent of rape survivors whose sexual assault hasn’t been reported or belong to the 46 percent who have, you have options and you aren’t alone.

Get support from people who will listen: family, friends, therapists and counselors, and understand that healing from a rape isn’t easy or quick; rape is a life altering event. It’s important to not make or believe assumptions about rape or shame others. Victims who assume guilt and don’t seek help have a much harder time recovering. Never think of your emotions as irrelevant; every survivor reacts to sexual trauma differently.

According to a CAPS psychiatrist, surviving a rape can lead to future problems — both mental and physical — including PTSD, flashbacks, drug or alcohol abuse, discomfort in relationships, inability to overcome feelings of vulnerability, etc. We tend to forget that individuals, not statistics, are the ones affected by sexual violence, and that every story and healing process is different.

The myths we hear about rape are spread through ignorance. Learn as much as you can and support mental and physical health in the aftermath of sexual violence.

You can contact the CVPP at (530) 752-3299.

KATELYN RINGROSE would love to hear your perspective; email her at knringrose@ucdavis.edu.

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