WARNING: This article contains potentially triggering, sensitive content. Sexual violence is prevalent, and may be described somewhat graphically.
“We tend to blame others for what happens to them because it keeps the rest of us feeling more safe and in control… It also keeps us from facing the fact that someone we care about may have made a grave mistake.”
Excitement. Friends. Music. Thrills. Sweat. Beer. Shots. Punch. Dizziness. Dark. Quiet. Confusion. Hands. Pain. Fog. Horror.
If you’re a woman in college, you probably know what just happened. In fact, according to a 2015 survey released by the Association of American Universities, there’s over a 20 percent chance you’ve lived this. If you’re a college guy, there’s a five percent chance you have, as well.
Sexual assault. Molestation. Rape.
K-State’s 2017 Annual Campus Security and Fire Safety Report says that there were 11 rapes reported to campus police in 2014, seven in 2015 and 11 in 2016. Of the 29, 13 took place on campus.
Dr. Sarah Wesch, psychologist at K-State Counseling Services from 2004-2015, encountered multiple cases involving women who were assaulted after being incapacitated by alcohol and violated at parties around Manhattan.
“They may have nightmares, insomnia, and panic attacks,” Wesch said. “Seeing the perpetrator of the assault will heighten the symptoms. Concentrating on school work becomes difficult. Often, when rape cases become public, there is a backlash and blaming of the victim. It becomes very isolating. Students often drop out or transfer universities.”
Many rape survivors, angry and humiliated, seek justice by undergoing more than two hours of invasive, painful testing at the hospital to collect evidence against their attacker. Unfortunately, their efforts are often fruitless. Earlier this year, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation revealed that 2,200 rape kits have gone untested across the state.
“It’s rare for victims in these kinds of assaults to get justice,” Wesch said. “It turns into a ‘he said/she said’ case. Even though she was unconscious during the act. Even though Kansas law states that someone impaired by alcohol cannot give consent.”
With such dismal conviction rates, it is unsurprising that rape culture continues to spread even in a relatively low-crime, everybody-knows-everybody Kansas town like Manhattan. Wesch defines rape culture as “ways in which our culture normalizes behaviors that are related to sexual assault.”
Problems Wildcats Face
Here in Manhattan, this means female K-State students are often cat-called on the streets and faced with blatant rape promotion.
“Living near a bunch of frat houses, I get cat-called very often, even in the middle of the day. It makes me feel somewhere between annoyed and demeaned. At night, it’s just scary, because I can’t see if they’re coming up from behind me,” Katie McWilliams, a senior in chemical engineering, said.
On K-State’s move-in day this year, as thousands of new students and their families flooded into Manhattan, they were confronted by spray-painted signs along main roads. The signs, placed in front of privately owned homes, bore darkly suggestive slogans like “FRESHMAN GIRLS DROP-OFF” and “HOPE YOU’RE 18!!”
“I think it sends a message: don’t bother reporting if you get raped, no one is going to believe you, because that’s the kind of culture we have here,” McWilliams said. “And I think it’s depressing because people are actually going to believe that.”
According to Wesch, pointed ignorance, public backlash and victim-blaming are not uncommon for K-State students who have been attacked.
“We tend to blame others for what happens to them because it keeps the rest of us feeling more safe and in control,” Wesch said. “For instance, if we can blame a rape victim because of how she dressed or what she drank, then we imagine that we can keep our own daughters safe. It also keeps us from facing the fact that a young man who we care about may have made a grave mistake.”
Wesch also said some people doubt the existence of these kinds of assaults, imagining a scenario like the first scene in the movie “Knocked Up,” where two adults–their judgment impeded by alcohol–enthusiastically participate in sex.
“That’s not rape, that’s just a poor choice…” Wesch said. “That’s not what’s going on in ‘party rapes’ and ‘date rapes.’ Often, drinks are being concocted, in advance, to impair young women. The women are so impaired that they are unconscious, or barely conscious, during the act.”
Greek Life and Sexual Assault: Starting the Conversation
Marco Saucedo, a junior in political science and a community leader within the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, agrees that rape culture often stems from a lack of conversation about it.
“It’s just one of those topics that nobody ever wants to talk about, like suicide, and you just kind of let it happen, and then when it happens, everybody’s outraged by it,” Saucedo said.
Saucedo encourages his fraternity brothers to watch out for situations at parties that could lead to sexual violence.
“I can tell you that everybody’s got each other’s backs,” Saucedo said. “Whenever we see something that might be leading in the wrong direction, we always stop it, say ‘Hey, let’s just go outside,’ or create situations to avoid a bigger problem. We do manage that a lot. We don’t want to end up like other organizations that have been kicked off of campus for those kinds of things.”
Pi Kappa Phi also maintains a closed-container policy at parties to avoid the use of date-rape drugs or excessive amounts of alcohol in the drinks they serve.
“It’s like when you go to the store, you don’t want something that’s already open because you’re like, ‘What the hell, there could be anything in there,’” Saucedo said. “We’re trying to stay here for a long time, not a good time.”
Saucedo says the fraternity has rape-prevention measures in place outside of parties as well. Each new member undergoes a seven-week training course designed to teach core values and morals intended to promote positive behavior. Signs have also been posted around the house to discourage sexual assault.
Saucedo says he doesn’t think organizations like fraternities are at fault for the majority of sexual assault at colleges, but rather individuals and their upbringing.
“In Greek life, you join the organization based on people like you,” Saucedo said. “So it’s like-minded people who get together, and then it’s issues that aren’t always addressed because of how they were taught or raised, or social media told them a certain way. That’s just what they’ve known and nobody’s ever told them differently.”
Saucedo says that talking about sexual assault is the best way to combat the issue, and encourages leaders in Greek life to speak up about it.
“If people with a voice use their voice for good, to talk about stuff like this, they could change a lot of things,” Saucedo said. “It might just be one person, but one person might just be enough to change everyone else.”
Q&A With Survivor. Survivor wishes to remain anonymous.
What happened to you?
I was sexually assaulted by someone who lived in the dorm that I lived in, on a different floor. It happened in the dorms. Initially I went to a party. It was the night before the first football game last year. I went to a party and I knew I wasn’t planning on drinking. I had a cup of soda in my hand just so people wouldn’t ask me if I wanted a drink or anything. I was with my friends the entire time…until I wasn’t. I still never know exactly what happened, but everything kind of points to me being drugged with something. I guess it wasn’t that strong because I ended up kind of waking up from whatever blacked-out state I was in. I must have been coherent enough to walk, because I somehow got back to my dorm from this party we were at. It was a random house party. I actually have no idea where it was. It happened in my dorm. Somehow I got back into my dorm. I kind of came out of the blackout 30 seconds into it. And I just immediately told him to get out. I was still in state of incoherence, I had no idea what was going on, so I ended up just falling asleep. The next morning I rode my bike to Walgreens and got emergency contraception, because I had no idea what had happened, and that was the last I did to address it.
So you know who attacked you?
Yeah, in a way. I saw him occasionally in the dining halls, but I never… After that, I’ve always done this thing when something bad has happened to me, that I immediately block it out of my mind and pretend that it didn’t happen. I guess I do that so often that I guess it’s just this sort of lying to yourself like convincing yourself it didn’t happen so it didn’t happen. So it never even registered with me whenever I would see him again that he did something to me. It never clearly registered.
How do you feel this has affected your life since then?
It’s just made me take a step back, and think about how it can easily happen to anyone. I had always told myself I was a smart girl, and that wouldn’t happen to me because I was careful. I would never get to that point of drinking too much, and that’s not an excuse for it to happen to anyone, I just always held myself to a higher standard and now I know it can happen to anyone.
What more do you think could have been done to protect you or other girls like you?
In hindsight there’s always something you can do, but looking back on it now, not that this is ever an excuse, I hate it when people use this excuse, but I wasn’t even wearing anything that was…I was wearing a shirt and jeans. I wasn’t drinking that night and even if I was, this isn’t a punishment, like sexual assault should never be a punishment for drinking too much. Your only punishment should be a hangover. I mean there’s just so many things on so many different levels that you can do. I mean, I don’t really know how they could do it in the dorms, just some sort of other system. You have to check in, so I imagine I was checked in, but I don’t know, that’s where I don’t know that process of what happened…
I say this now, I never came forward publicly until now. I told my close friends recently in June. That’s when I told my friends and mentioned it to my mom that something had happened to me. We need to give women more resources to come forward and to not be afraid to come forward. It’s even scary to come forward anonymously. I don’t know how we really can, but that’s the biggest step, is to come forward and not be afraid of repercussions. There really shouldn’t BE repercussions for coming forward… Women are so scared that something worse can happen to them. It just keeps dragging on. I think the reason I didn’t come forward is that I wanted to never think about it again. I just wanted to move on with my life. It wasn’t a good thing to do but I never really had any really serious… I just never thought about it again. Now I think about it, I’ve admitted to myself that it happened, and that I got out of it. I’ve worked through it now, I talk to professionals about it now. I feel bad for saying it didn’t do any really serious psychological damage to me. I know for a lot of women, it does.
What do you wish you could say to the person who assaulted you, or to other people who assault women?
To other people who assault women, I’d say honestly, eff you for thinking you have to drug someone to think you’re having a good time, and to put someone else in physical danger and in a mental state where they feel they need to block out that memory. Why do you feel the need to do that? Why me? Not in the sense that they should choose someone else. Why do that to someone, whether it was me or any other girl? What was the thought process that went into it?
Based on what you’ve experienced, what do you think are some common misconceptions about how sexual assault occurs, especially in this area?
They automatically go to ‘Well, maybe you shouldn’t have been drinking,’ or ‘You shouldn’t have let that happen to you.’ They go along with victim-blaming. They don’t even try to see the side of the victim, like how in a situation like that, you’re completely helpless, especially if you’re drugged. Even if you’re not even drinking that night, but somehow still drugged, but coherent enough for other people to think that you’re fine. Maybe you were drinking too much so people automatically thought that was all.
Do you regret not going to the hospital or speaking to the police?
I regret not going to the hospital or speaking to anyone. I didn’t even speak to K-State services. I know since we both live in the dorms, it could have been resolved. Since I knew who my attacker was… I was too scared to come forward, and I regret that.
Is there anything you’d like people to know about your situation or rape culture in general that would help them to gain a better understanding?
I want people to know that it’s okay to come forward. And that it’s not your fault. If it happens to you, don’t blame yourself. And it’s never too late to come forward. I always thought it was too late to come forward, to talk to anyone at K-State, or to talk to a police officer or even a health professional. While they couldn’t get any physical evidence of it happening so long after, just talking to a professional about it. It’s never too late to do that.
K-State provides several rape-prevention safety measures for students, such as an ASAP (or Alcohol and Sexual Assault Prevention) program that K-Staters are required to take annually to warn against unhealthy relationships, substance abuse, and sexual assault on and off campus.
To protect students walking on campus or through the parking lots, K-State installed bright blue emergency phones that can be used to call for help in dangerous situations.
The most effective options for students concerned about traveling home alone in the dark are Wildcat Walk and SafeRide. Wildcat Walk provides safety escorts around campus at night by either pressing the button on the blue emergency phone poles, or calling (785) 395-7233.
Alternatively, SafeRide offers rides home for anyone living with Manhattan city limits between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. Thursday through Sunday.
The SafeRide bus routes are available on K-State’s website, and they can be reached at (785) 532-6541.
Finally, K-State encourages students to download an app called “LiveSafe,” intended to easily connect them with the police. The app includes report tips for sharing information with the KSUPD, a safety map, safety alerts, location-sharing in emergencies, and a “Safewalk” feature that allows students to virtually monitor friends’ locations as they move along the map. It can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play.