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December 6, 2010

Breaking the Silence

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By: Karalyn Kester

*Note: The name of the victim has been changed in order to protect her identity.

Almost a year ago, Hailey* was raped in her own apartment. Her rapist? A friend and fellow Concordia Student. Neither was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. She lived a block away from Concordia’s campus. Since that day, her life has never been the same.

“The sexual assault may have lasted 30 minutes maximum, but it has consumed me, my thoughts and my actions, from that point on,” she said. “ I have never felt more vulnerable than I did on that day, and since then, my life has been impacted in every aspect.”

Unlike so many others, Hailey reported the crime to the Moorhead Police Department, and she also reported her offender to the office of public safety at Concordia.  Only 24.1 percent of the Concordia students who indicated that they have experienced sexual assault reported the sexual assault to anyone, and according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2005 National Crime Victimization Study, sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with 60 percent being left unreported.

According to After Silence, an organization designed to help victims become survivors and to help them communicate in the recovery of sexual violence, breaking the silence is the first step toward recovery.

Although reporting a sexual assault is said to be one of the most important steps in the recovery process, it is not something that it easy to do.

Hailey said the rape kit that was done in the ER was awful. She remembers the examinations, medications, and questioning for the police report vividly. She cried, vomited, and even gave up personal possessions as evidence. She couldn’t eat for four days.

“I remember calling my mom in tears a few days after the assault, because my favorite foods- Diet Coke, Erberts and Gerberts and Snickers- no longer appealed to me, and I didn’t know when I would recover any type of appetite.”

She didn’t work for a month after the sexual assault and she doesn’t even feel comfortable in her own apartment. The door is double-locked at all times and her roommate has taken responsibility for answering the door.

In the weeks and months following the assault, she often considered withdrawing from Concordia, despite the fact that she had just started final semester as a Cobber. She said that it was hard to focus on completing daily assignments or lectures in class, especially when she was still making up papers from the previous semester. She didn’t feel comfortable on campus, even though she only went to campus for classes.

It may seem that sexual assault is something that is not common on a small college campus such as Concordia, but the statistics are shockingly high.

According to Concordia’s data from the University of Minnesota’s 2008 College Student Health Survey, nearly one in five (19.9 percent) female Concordia students surveyed report experiencing sexual assault in their lifetime, with 8.8 percent of students reporting having been assaulted within the past 12 months.

Male Concordia students have experienced sexual assault at lower rates, with 5.4 percent reporting sexual assault in their lifetime, and 4.4 percent reporting an assault within the past 12 months.

With the statistics showing that only 24.1 percent of these students who have experienced sexual assault reported the crime, Concordia along with the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead want victims to know that there are people and resources out there to help.

Hailey described the three month-long process of reporting and following the campus’s procedure for disciplinary action as exhausting and stressful, an emotional rollercoaster with many burdens, but she cannot imagine what her life would be like had she not reported her sexual assault.

Her attacker was found responsible for his actions by a Disciplinary Board and sanctions were given by Concordia. Some of the Sanctions included:  First he was required to complete a mandatory sex offender evaluation in order to determine the type and length of mandatory counseling he must complete. He was under a no contact order, including third parties, and was on disciplinary probation. He was financially responsible for any of her follow-up medical exams and  therapy. Finally, his diploma was suspended for one full year.

But is that enough? Are these sanctions a “fair” consequence for his actions? The disciplinary board did find him responsible for his actions, yet he was still allowed to remain on campus with other students, enrolled in classes. Sure, you can suspend his diploma, but that is only temporary. How do you feel knowing that you could have been walking next someone who was found responsible for sexually assaulting another student as you passed the bell tower? Safe, right? Not me. But don’t worry, his diploma is suspended for a year.

Instances like this aren’t specific to Concordia. Here is an excerpt from the Key Findings of an investigation of sexual assault on College campuses by the Center for Public Integrity:

According to a report funded by the Department of Justice, roughly one in five women who attend college will become the victim of a rape or an attempted rape by the time she graduates. But official data from the schools themselves don’t begin to reflect the scope of the problem. And student victims face a depressing litany of barriers that often either assure their silence or leave them feeling victimized a second time, according to a 12-month investigation by the Center for Public Integrity.

The probe reveals that students found “responsible” for alleged sexual assaults on campuses often face little or no punishment, while their victims’ lives are frequently turned upside down. Many times, victims drop out of school, while students found culpable go on to graduate. Administrators believe the sanctions administered by the college judicial system are a thoughtful and effective way to hold abusive students accountable, but the Center’s investigation has discovered that “responsible” findings rarely lead to tough punishment like expulsion — even in cases involving alleged repeat offenders.”

For more information on the results of this investigation visit:

Sexual Assault on Campus: A Frustrating Search for Justice

“My academics, employment, health, security, finances and social life have all been significantly impacted in negative ways,” she said. “If I hadn’t reported it, I would have been mad at him and hated myself, and [my attacker] would not think he had done anything wrong… How can someone not stop when you say ‘no’ and ‘stop?’ He was in the wrong, not me.” -Hailey

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