Alcohol, Rape, and College: Stanford Case Reveals Life After Sexual Assault

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By: Shanae Hardy

Recently, a letter penned by the victim of the Stanford sexual assault case went viral. In the letter addressed to Brock Turner, the 20-year-old Stanford University student who assaulted the victim behind a dumpster outside of a party, the effects of sexual assault and alcohol abuse were unbarred and exposed.

Brock, who was sentenced to six months in jail and three years’ probation, was accused of sexually assaulting a then 22-year-old woman while she was unconscious. The woman, who was attending a party with her sister on Jan. 17, 2015—the night of the assault—admitted to drinking past her tolerance level before passing out by the dumpster. Unfortunately, the victim was the target of a heinous crime that left her vulnerable and stripped of her identity.

“I was warned, because he now knows you don’t remember, he is going to get to write the script…I had no power, I had no voice, I was defenseless,” she wrote in a letter read publicly in trial and published by Buzzfeed News and other media outlets.

Although the incident on Stanford’s campus will forever affect the woman and Turner, the letter revealed a sentiment that many rape victims struggle to come to terms with—one still has an identity after an assault. Many victims use their assault to educate young men and women on proper consent and preventative measures.

Although there has been much controversy surrounding Turner’s defense of alcohol consumption spiraling into irresponsible sex, alcohol still plays a large role in sexual assault cases. The victim also admitted to consuming too much alcohol at the party, which caused her to blackout on campus.

According to 2016 statistics by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, women who attend colleges with high and medium binge-drinking rates had more than a 1.5-fold chance of being raped while intoxicated. The study also found that 72 percent of women in college who had reported being raped since the beginning of the year were too intoxicated to refuse consent.  

Despite the circumstances, sexual assault does not define its victim. With the support of friends, family, and community organizations, the victim has a unique opportunity to inspire others who have struggled through trauma.

Sexual assault on campuses

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According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. The 2015 statistics also reported that more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.

Also, the amount of drugs and alcohol consumed by a victim or their attacker can dictate the rate of sexual assaults on campus. In 2015, CNN reported that a new study done by the Association of American Universities showed a correlation between drugs, alcohol, and sexual assault. Twenty-three percent of college women who had been assaulted said they were incapacitated by drugs and alcohol.  

Sexual assault in college is almost never a part of the glamorized version, glorified on the big screen or social-media memes and gifs. Although college is just a fraction of our lives, sexual assault affects most students on campus.

With women being disproportionately targeted for sexual assault, the terms of proper consent is usually the origin of the assault. Sometimes, both young men and women do not know what proper consent or communication entail, but refusing to acknowledge “no” or a partner’s uncomfortable demeanor should be a red flag to stop any sexual activity or attempt.         

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the laws of consent vary from state to state. It defines consent as an “agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.” Consent should be considered throughout sex, and both partners are free to stop or say no at any time.

Some misnomers for consent—or the lack of consent—include assuming certain types of clothing is an invitation for sex, a minor consenting to sex, having sex with someone who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, and pressuring someone into sex through fear or humiliation.

Sexual assault cases on campus that become publicized by media and/or student organizations are uncovering the underlying issues of rape culture. The assumption that college men and women are responsible enough to define consent—both legally and physically—only fosters leniency and repeated cases.

Sexual assault prevention            

There may be no direct way to control the compulsion of others, but there are ways that people can protect themselves against a sexual assault attack.

In 2014, RAINN reported that 55 percent of sexual assaults occur at or near the victim’s home. Some of the ways to combat an attack at home is knowing how to respond to someone who’s forcing you into sex.

  •         RAINN suggests having a code you can easily text friends and family is useful to get help fast. Use a number such as “311” or simply “help” to make your friends and family aware of what is going on.
  •         Not being interested in sex is enough to not consent to it. Even if you are being pressured, don’t let someone’s verbal tactics lure you into nonconsensual sex.
  •         Having an escape route mapped out beforehand comes in handy. Being able to physically defend yourself and escape quickly is sometimes the only way out of sexual assault. Taking physical defense classes, such as kickboxing and karate, and locating the nearest door or window to exit from will prepare you for any spontaneous attack.

“Nightlife” or clubs, bars, dark movie theaters and parking lots are also target areas for perpetrators. If you are going out with a group of friends, stick together and always elect a friend who doesn’t drink or is the designated driver to watch out for the rest of the group. Also, don’t accept a drink or leave with a stranger.This will prevent any possibility of an attack.

The NSVRC found that off-campus victimization is much more common than on-campus attacks. According to the research groups, sexual assaults are more likely to happen on a Friday or Saturday night between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. Between 79 and 89 percent of victims are assaulted because of drugs or alcohol given to them by an attacker.

Even though victims may feel like they’ve been stripped of their identity and control after an assault, there are still ways they can help educate others on prevention against sexual assault.

Pandora’s Project, a support and resource group for survivors of rape and sexual assault, provides victims with a community that garners action against sexual assault by speaking out against it.

Nationally, nonprofit organizations and sexual assault support groups host annual events, such as Take Back the Night and SlutWalk, to create dialogue and awareness about sexual assault.

Ultimately, no one is immune from the lashes of sexual assault, but in the words of the Stanford victim, “ the seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly… The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk.”

Seeking treatment

Sexual assault often leaves its victim feeling worthless and traumatized, but there are opportunities for a victim to overcome these emotional challenges.

Other than clinical care after rape or a sexual assault, joining recovery groups or establishing one of your own are beneficial ways to rebrand your identity while helping spread awareness about assault.

Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR) is an organization that provides free individual and group counseling to children and adults who have experienced sexual violence. Therapy at WOAR consists of activities such as yoga, art, music, and journaling for long-term therapy that works to heal the trauma of sexual abuse.

Drug and alcohol treatment is also best for victims who suffer from addiction. Since young adults, ages 18 to 24, are more at risk for a drug addiction, the pressure of substance abuse is prominent in college. Residential centers are recommended for more severe cases. Drug detox, therapy, and medication are used to wean the client off of drugs and to treat any underlying trauma or mental illness that may be enabling an addiction.

But one of the hardest yet most essential way to rebuild a shattered identity after sexual assault is by talking. Opening up about the incident will empower other victims to shed light on their assault. Continuing to show society that sexual assault is a constant threat and doesn’t discriminate based on gender, age and race is the premise for prevention and awareness.

Victims do have the power to defeat their attackers by letting their voices be heard. Building a united front against the effects of sexual assault is effective to reform consent laws throughout the country and on campuses.

“…a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably…you are powerful and no one can take that away from you”—Stanford victim.

If you are struggling with any form of trauma, such as addiction or substance abuse, as a result of sexual assault, call our specialists today at 1-888-220-4352.

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