The sky was beginning to darken as Lindsay Harris, the only lifeguard on duty, stood vigilant at the apartment complex pool. She was contemplating the advancing thunderheads when a few of the pool’s maintenance men offered her refuge from the storm in one of their apartments. The guys were making lunch and offered Harris a strawberry smoothie. Unaware that the blended beverage was drugged, Harris accepted the drink.
“I had just turned 17. I was not close with the guy, just knew that he was double my age, married and had kids,” Harris recalled, “He took my virginity.”
Harris’ survivor story helps to illuminate the alarming rate of sexual assaults in the U.S. One in six women and one in 33 men will be assaulted during their life. College campuses are notoriously more troubling when looking at the statistics. Since the 1980s, reports show that one in four women will be sexually assaulted in college.
“Awareness efforts are now beginning to include men. In fact, our campus has collaborated with the Nord Center to launch a campaign targeting men and women,” Keith Brown, director of Campus Security at LCCC said.
“I for one, will never go any place with anybody I do not know. I never go out by myself and I never go to a private place with guys until I truly know them. I learned the hard way … of how not to get raped,” Harris admitted.
Our society has a reputation of perpetuating the idea that survivors can prevent their own sexual abuse. In Toronto, Canada a movement and protest began after Constable Michael Sanguinetti said, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts,” if they wanted to prevent being sexually abused. The movement, dubbed SlutWalk, has gone global and reached American universities, Latin America, India and Singapore.
“There’s a social belief system that happens to people who put themselves in vulnerable situations, that it’s preventable. They’re told to not dress in a certain way or engage in certain activities,” Rebecca Opel, coordinator of Sexual Assault Services at The Nord Center, said. “Blaming victims is like saying the victim has control, but it’s the opposite.”
The rape prevention market
Our economy actually capitalizes on rape prevention items geared towards women. Companies have marketed nail polish and drinking straws that turn a different color in the presence of date rape drugs. There are female condoms with teeth that attach to a man’s penis which then need to be removed by a doctor and even a tampon with a hidden spike inside of it which will stab anything that penetrates the wearer.
An anonymous source on campus carries a type of brass knuckles with points on her as she walks to her car in the parking lots surrounding campus. “At night, when it’s really dark and there is no light walking to my car can be scary,” she said. “I think we need more security cameras within the parking lots, not just in the first three rows.”
“Personal protective devices have been carried by members of our campus community. Oftentimes female students will make contact with campus security to advise they carry mace or pepper spray in their purse or on a keychain. We also encourage them to take a personal self-defense class that is offered through our HPER division,” Brown said of personal security on campus.
Shifting the focus
The energy and the movement seem to be behind educating people about rape avoidance and not in educating potential perpetrators that rape is wrong. It hasn’t been until recently that the focus has started to shift towards targeting the aggressors.
California has just approved a ‘Yes Means Yes’ law, which creates a new shift in the prevention and investigation of sexual abuse. Students in California must now focus on “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”
Opel agrees on the importance that consent plays in a sexual relationship. “There is a difference between complying and giving consent. Consent is a mutually agreed upon interaction. Just because it happens doesn’t mean that they’ve given consent.”
Abusers are typically known by the victim, hence the call for a conscious, mutual agreement to sex. Opel explained. Around 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance to the victim, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
“Very few cases are the stranger behind the bushes. The majority [of abusers] are known by the victim. When you promote stranger-danger, you’re not really talking about what the majority of sexual abuse looks like,” Opel emphasized.
Like many rape survivors, Harris did not believe that something so horrific could happen to her. “… my idea of rape was a gruesome act that happened when women were out in the middle of the night in dark alley ways or parks alone.”
From victim to survivor
While watching a television show where rape was being discussed, Harris heard the survivors discussing their assaults and she realized that she had been raped. She discussed what happened to her with her boyfriend and her mother and they solidified her fears.
“I had increasing anxiety about it, and lost sleep. I made a phone call to the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and went through some counseling sessions there. Through the help of the CRCC and an appropriate counselor, I was able to regain control of my life and not let someone control me or define me.”
Replacing the term ‘victim’ with survivor gives those who’ve been sexually assaulted hope. It helps take the stigma away from the incident.
“It is a sad reality, it can happen to anyone anywhere. I am glad that I have been able to learn from it, and not let it control my life,” Harris said.