Event breaks silence on sexual assault, abusive relationships


The Appalachian Online

Chamian Cruz

As part of Social Justice Week, six students participated in a panel on Wednesday to share and discuss their survivor stories of sexual assault and abuse.

The event, titled Breaking the Silence, took place on Wednesday night at the Price Lake Ballroom of Plemmons Student Union was hosted by Appalachian State University’s Women’s Center and LIPS: Expressions of Female Sexuality.

“This event came together to shed light on a topic that too many people feel should only be discussed behind closed doors,” said Amelia Thomas, senior sociology major.

The six students on the panel shared their personal stories of either sexual assault, intimate partner violence, abuse or a combination of each. At the moment of the assault, many of them recall not realizing or not fully processing that they were being raped.

Although each of the experiences of the panelists ranged from 30 years to one year ago, they still recall the fear they felt while it was happening, the fear of not being believed that they had been raped and the feeling of regret.

“After the event, I just saw myself as a sex object,” said Madisen Dingle, junior communication science and disorders major. “It wasn’t until I met my current partner who is very supportive, that I realized ‘oh, this is different,’ but I still have a lot of triggers.”

To this date, all six students said their experiences continue to affect their lives. Each of them suffer in their own way with trust issues, a hard time creating or keeping interpersonal relationships and the experience has affected their sexual life in various ways.

“Interpersonal relationships have been rough. For a while I was really scared,” said Rachel Jordan, who will be enrolling at Appalachian for fall 2015 after dropping out last year. “I thought I was turning into a psychopath, because I was unable to feel love and that’s gotten a lot better, but when it comes to actual people trying to have relationships with me, I hurt people a lot.”

As a coping mechanism, the students find relief in writing, helping others with similar experiences, pursuing a hobby like rock climbing, finding tranquility in trees or in yoga or going back to school even as a nontraditional student.

Thomas said one in four women will be the victim of intimate partner violence in her lifetime and every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the United States, with at least 10 percent of the individuals being men.

“The reported cases of rape are abysmally low,” said Nathan Yager, sophomore management major and panelist at the event. “North Carolina doesn’t have any legislation saying that rape from female to male is rape. You cannot be prosecuted in the state of North Carolina if you’re a woman and rape a man. I’m tired of the way our culture looks at men as if they need sex all the time [or] they need to be predators. I’m sick of it.”

Yager said he was raised with the stereotype that men should be defenders, caretakers, providers and tough. When he was raped, he didn’t quite believe that men could be raped and didn’t tell anyone out of fear of not being believed or being told to “toughen up.”

“One of the things that I got out of [my experience] is that masculinity isn’t taking everybody else’s problems and putting it on your own shoulders. It’s doing what you can to help out those you care about,” Yager said. “[Masculinity] is being a defender, it is being a caretaker, it is being a provider, it is doing so not at the expense of yourself.”

Higher rates of violence are higher among LGBT individuals, particularly transgender individuals – 64 percent of trans individuals having experienced some form of violence in their lifetime, Thomas said.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey reports an average of 293,066 sexual assaults per year. In addition, sexual assault or intimate partner violence can affect anyone.

A flyer provided at the event stated that victims of sexual assault or intimate partner violence can find help and support at Appalachian’s Counseling Center, the Red Flag Campaign, the Women’s Center, LIPS: Expressions of Female Sexuality and OASIS, Inc.

As victims of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and/or abuse, the students advise others to seek help. The panelists said that victims are not alone in their experience and it’s important to find a support system, a passion and to get therapy.

”It is not your fault. You didn’t do anything, so don’t beat yourself over that,” said Elizabeth Fox, junior sociology major. “Find someone to talk to. You are not alone.”

STORY: Chamian Cruz, News Reporter