Students, organization raise awareness of sexual assault

Reporter and Reporter

For Erica, a Wood County resident, being raped two years ago left her scarred and caused her to struggle with her identity.

Police escorted Erica to a local hospital for an examination shortly after an unknown assailant had struck her across the face, which forced her to the ground.

“Something as simple as leaving the house was suddenly terrifying,” Erica said. “Regaining a sense of normalcy has been a long process.”

In order to protect her identity, Erica’s last name will not be published.

With April being Sexual Assault Awareness month, organizations on campus such as the Sexual Assault Awareness For Empowerment Center are spearheading campaigns to help victims.

Despite what happened to Erica, the stereotype that says predators don’t know their victims in sexual assault cases is almost completely false, said Tony Dotson, a campus police sergeant.

For example, the vast majority of sexual assaults that are reported to campus police occur within residence halls, meaning the victim and the perpetrator have likely met before, Dotson said.

Between 2009 and 2011 there were 18 reported cases of sexual assault at the University, according to the University’s yearly crime report.

That number is fewer than the number of reported cases at Ohio University and Ohio State University during the same time frame, according to the universities crime reports.

There are likely even more sexual assaults than every university is aware of, they just aren’t reported to the police, Dotson said.

Sexual assault is a very under-reported crime because many victims feel ashamed or don’t want to re-live the experience by re-telling the crime in court, said Julie Broadwell, director of the SAAFE Center, a company that helps sexual assault victims in Wood County.

Sexual assault can include touching sexual areas without consent, stalking or rape, she said.

It’s very common for the SAAFE Center to work with University students since the University resides within Wood County, Broadwell said.

“We want to be available to everyone at [the University],” she said.

The SAAFE Center helps more than 150 victims of sexual assault every year, although that doesn’t mean these victims were sexually assaulted in Wood County, Broadwell said.

Rather, the crime may have been committed elsewhere, but if the victims currently reside in Wood County the SAAFE Center offers its services to the victims, which was how Erica got involved with the company, she said.

Time is a key factor in reporting a sexual assault because after a crime similar to Erica’s, there is a 96 hour window where physical evidence can be gathered against the perpetrator, Dotson said.

“We encourage victims to come forward as quickly as possible,” he said. “We only have a short window of opportunity to gather key evidence,” such as articles of clothing, bedding or a condom left behind, Dotson said.

While the police attempt to provide a level of closure for the victims it can still take years for them to feel fully healed, which most victims won’t be able to obtain, Broadwell said.

Following the incident, Erica moved in with her parents and took three months off from work, she said.

“The entire ordeal left me struggling with my identity,” Erica said.

It’s been more than two years since the incident, but Erica said she’s not even half way through the recovery process. If she didn’t seek help as soon as she did, Erica believes her recovery wouldn’t be as far along as it is now.

“It wouldn’t be good to try and handle [sexual assault] recovery on your own,” Erica said. “We all need somebody to help bear the burden.”

When the attacker was caught by police more than a year after the incident, his capture gave Erica closure, she said.

The attacker received eight years in prison with no chance of parole, Erica said.

Erica said she’s still struggling and hasn’t fully healed since the incident.

“I don’t even know the girl I was before this happened,” Erica said. “I mourn the loss of myself.”

Erica was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression following the incident.

Although Erica admitted the incident will effect her for the rest of her life, she’s trying to stay positive by taking things one day at a time, she said.

“It doesn’t make me break down and cry like I used to, but it’s still on my mind everyday,” Erica said.