A call for help: University says more students reporting sexual assaults


A Call for Help

Ian Flickinger

Three months ago, Sarah* matched with a man on Tinder who stood out from all the rest. He seemed “special.” He took interest in her life, listened when she talked and cared about her family. As the two got to know each other, she told him she had been raped almost three years earlier, and she said he handled it well — better than previous men had. 

One month ago, the two met for the first time at her apartment. The two watched football — the Packers vs. the Seahawks — and she said both drank heavily. Sarah said he made sure she always had a drink in her hand. After kissing for a few minutes, he wanted to move further. Sarah said she told him she was uncomfortable with it, that what he was doing hurt, and asked him to stop. He ignored her pleas, and she was raped four times in total before the next morning. 

“He was one of the snakes,” Sarah said. “They seem good. They’re really not.” 

According to a 2015 survey done by the Association of American Universities, one in four women will be sexually assaulted while in college in the U.S. 

Statistics relay a clear message: Sexual violence is disturbingly commonplace and has permeated many campuses nationwide. Yet many students fail to recognize the severity of this issue, disregarding it as something that won’t ever happen to them. 

By the numbers

80 percent are under the age of 30. (RAINN)

68 percent are not reported to the police. (RAINN)

Approximately four in five sexual assaults are committed by someone known by the victim. (RAINN)

47 percent are committed by a friend or acquaintance. (RAINN)

Overall, three in four LGBT students reported experiencing sexual harassment. (The Atlantic)

13.7 percent of LGBT students report Experiencing Unwanted Sexual Contact. (The Atlantic)

Despite increased awareness, improved reporting procedures and more victims stepping forward, sexual violence is a definitive challenge — one that’s still not being openly discussed — for this generation of students. 

Sarah, now a senior at Kent State, said she was also raped several times from the summer of her senior year in high school to the end of her first semester of college by her then-boyfriend, who is about five years older than her.

They engaged in consensual sex when she turned 18. One night, the summer before her freshman year, they were kissing when he began to initiate foreplay. Sarah told him to stop, sayng they had no protection and she was not on birth control.

He didn’t listen. He forced himself on top of her, continuing through her commands to stop. He was too strong for her to force off, so she said she gave up and laid there. 

After the attack, they met friends out for dinner to celebrate a birthday.

“I got it through my head that he loved me and that he maybe hadn’t heard me say anything,” Sarah said. “I honestly thought he loved me. He got me so messed up in the head. I thought he was the only person who cared, and if I left him, I would be on my own by myself, and how would I ever do that?”

Jennifer O’Connell, program coordinator for Kent State’s Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services (SRVSS) said Sarah’s situation is the most frequent kind of case.

“What we know from a lot of research is when someone is assaulted, they’re typically assaulted by someone they know,” O’Connell said. “It’s not the stranger in the bushes.” 

Explaining the Increase

The university’s Campus Safety, Security and Fire Safety Bulletin 2015 Report on 2014 Statistics, which contains crime data for the university, indicates a rise in the number of sexual-natured crimes reported at Kent State.

There were 16 reports in 2014, up from 10 the year before.

However, focusing on the numbers fails to recognize the full picture. Each figure represents a living human being who has undergone a traumatic situation — one that will stay with them for the remainder of their life.

University staff, including SRVSS, hope students will become more aware of the resources available to victims, the situations where sexual violence may occur and methods of preventing an attack.

O’Connell said SRVSS-initiated programs like Take Back the Night, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, the Clothesline Project and Green Dot are helping to change the culture. 

“Kent State is actually incredibly proactive in terms of addressing this challenge, and (Kent State) is very unique in terms of the ‘Kent State approach’ to eradicating sexual violence among college students,” said Suzy D’Enbeau, an assistant communication studies professor who teaches Green Dot certification, a bystander awareness program. 

She said that approach and the subsequent increase in student awareness contributes to the rise in the number of reports. 

President Beverly Warren said universities nationwide are seeing a rise, and she expects Ohio to be a leader in sexual assault prevention and education by sharing best practices and strategies among the state’s public universities.

“What we think is happening is individuals feel more comfortable reporting sexual assault and that all of them are more aware, and so if you see something, say something,” Warren said. “I think the more successful we are in that kind of awareness, you most likely will see a rise in the number of incidents, but it means then that we can address those incidents.”

Officer Tricia Knoles, community resource officer for the Kent State Police Department, said law enforcement supports SRVSS and encourages students to reach out to authorities, whether they end up filing a report or not.

“We realize there are people who are too afraid to come to the police,” Knoles said. “We’re not going to pressure them, but we explain, ‘You may not want to get this person in trouble, but down the road, you might start thinking about it, and you only have a couple days to get the test (rape kit) done.’”

Knoles said even those who decide not to report are given information about support services, and students who call in a safety concern — even if they were involved in an illegal activity like underage drinking — won’t be charged criminally because of the Good Samaritan law. She said the department looks at the bigger picture and above all else wants to keep students safe.

Sarah said she did not want to file a report, nor did she seek university-sponsored support. She said she does not know about the university’s resources.

“I didn’t have a clue,” Sarah said. “I know I’ve gotten past this before. I can deal with this myself better than any random thing I’ve hardly ever heard of on campus can.”

Sarah said she lived in university housing her sophomore year after her first attack and found support from others living there who had also been assaulted. She said it can be difficult for victims to talk about the issue, much less to a counselor.

“I ended up finding out five girls on my floors were victims,” Sarah said. “We like to call ourselves survivors. We all saw ourselves as statistics. It’s so much easier to talk to each other because we all under- stood each other. We had been through the same things. That’s what’s so hard about talking to a therapist or something: Unless you’ve lived through(it), it’s very hard to feel like you understand what I’m saying.”

She said she believes an anonymous group, led by students who have gone through sexual violence themselves, would be the most effective way to support survivors. 


Another goal of university programs is to change how sexual violence is perceived: Bring it out of the shadows, and talk about it. 

“Until we actually have a name for something and a way of talking about it, it kind of doesn’t really exist,” D’Enbeau said.

She said she gives an anonymous clicker quiz in her Gender and Communication class, which asks students to identify if either they or someone they know have been the victim of power-based personal violence. More than half the class typically clicks “yes.”

She also said that in her 10-year teaching career, a student has has confided in her every semester. 

Warren said students have confided in her as well.

“Part of my hope is creating a safe environment where students, faculty and staff feel comfortable coming to seek support or advice or for help,” Warren said. “I hope that I’ve created that climate during my tenure through the ranks — that individuals feel comfortable to come in and share really painful personal experiences, and I hope that continues.”

While the university is working to address the issue, Sarah said students still shy away from talking about sexual assault. 

“I think it’s still a ‘brush under the rug’ kind of thing,” Sarah said. “Nobody wants to talk about the fact that it’s actually happening. It’s just been so taboo for so long; how do you change that?”

For example, few students understand it is not possible to give consent if either person is drunk.

“Even if she is taking the lead and is all over you, you need to wait until the next day when she’s sober,” Knoles said. “You’re looking at a sexual assault charge because the law states the female is intoxicated, that they’re not able to make that conscious decision to have sex.”

She said the confusion surrounding that scenario is one reason why sexual assault is so hard to track: Many students don’t fully recognize it has even occurred.

“I think there are a lot more unreported sexual assaults because a lot of females wake up the next day, although they regret what they did, they blame themselves because they were drunk,” Knoles said.

Sarah said she faulted herself at first for the rapes and then considered the repercussions her attacker would face if she reported the incident.

“I thought about looking for help or pressing charges, and I thought, ‘He has an entire life, and I’m about to ruin it.’ How horrible is it that I felt guilty for ruining my rapist’s life? But that’s the way it is,” Sarah said. “This is an entire life I’m going to ruin if I report him. You just feel guilty, and you shouldn’t. I feel like that’s the way society makes it, that it’s more your fault than their’s.” 

*Sarah’s name has been changed, as she did not wish to be identified by her real name for this story. 

Ian Flickinger is the administration reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].