Women tell experiences of rape & sexual harassment at NOW event
Sixteen women spoke out at UF/Santa Fe Community College Campus National Organization for Women's Speakout Against Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment on the Plaza of the Americas at UF on March 25. Woman after woman came up and told their own stories and stories of their friends, sisters, and even mothers-rapes by men they thought were their friends, harassment by male teachers, an assault by an estranged husband, relationships in which the women were forced to have sex, an assault in a fraternity shower, getting pushed down and held down by a man at the edge of a dance floor at a bar. The stereotype of the stranger rape was exploded entirely, as only one woman told of a stranger rapist, who had raped her mother at UF many years before. Kirsten Hall, chair of Campus NOW's Rape Action Committee, introduced the speak out: "We do not believe that rape is a result of problems of communication, education or safety issues. UF/SFCC campus NOW beleives rape occurs because of the power imbalances between women and men."
Campus NOW historian Candi Churchill delivered the organization's demands (see box on page 20) and stated: "The reason Campus NOW organized this speakout was not so that so many of us--too many of us--could dredge up really painful memories... What we are really here to do today is to come together as women and demand that this stop. We go through so much alone and today we are here together. We don't want lip service. We don't want awareness. We want prevention. As a political group, keeping on top of programs around the country and looking at our history, UF did a better job ten years ago than they're doing today. We think we know as women, as experts on sexual assault and harassment what could prevent it. Men rape us. Men need to stop. Women don't need to dress differently, drink less, stay in groups, stay inside, take self-defense. We need men to quit."
When women did report the rapes, assaults, or harassment, they testified that the road was rough. Women got very little support, and frequently were blamed for what happened to them. In only one case was the crime prosecuted. In other cases, the women were told "there was not enough evidence." In one case the State Attorney arrested the man but later dropped the charges. According to Hall, "UF and UPD are doing little to convince men to stop raping, and therefore rape is something men know they can getaway with." In many cases women felt so little support, and based on the reactions of the people they did tell, they did not pursue any actions at all.
Hall stated: "Rape and harassment on our campus is more widespread than the University or UPD wants to admit. UF and UPD do not see rape and sexual harassment as a priority... [They] are more concerned with keeping a positive public image of UF. ...Because no action is taken on campus, men rape and men get away with raping."
UPD reported one rape on campus for all of last year, according to Hall, and this has been going on for years. "The rape and sexual harassment statistics that UPD reports are false," Hall said. To counter this, Campus NOW's Rape Action Committee developed a survey form and a database so that women can, anonymously, if they wish, report incidents of rape and sexual harassment they have experienced. "This database can help Campus NOW show UF and UPD more accurate statistics for how often rape and harassment really are occurring."
Campus NOW reported that a member of the group called UPD to ask about procedures necessary for victims to take when reporting rape or harassment. She called [the person she was directed to speak with] 7 times and never had a call returned. Then, according to NOW, she made an appointment to speak with him over the phone, and he was not in his office at that time. Hall concluded, "If rape is not a priority enough for them to talk with us, then how are women supposed to report it?"
"Blaming women makes women feel we are alone and it is our fault if we've been raped or harassed. Blaming women causes each victim to be isolated from other victims... Women have every right to be promiscuous if they want. They have every right to drink, they have every right to flirt with a man... a woman has a right to do what she wants and doesn't deserve to get raped." One campus NOW member read the testimony of her sister: "Four years ago, I was raped. He was a friend, or so I thought. You see, Kevin was one of those guys that every girl wants ... but he wasn't for me. I wasn't attracted to him. He was actually more like a brother. One night my friend Alex and I went out drinking and dancing. We both had too much to drink so our friend Kevin offered to drive us home, and we could drive him home in the morning. I should have known there was something wrong when he put his hand between my thighs. I let the whole hand thing go because we were all drunk and whatever. Then when we got to Alex's he was flirting with me. Whatever, I let it go. There was only one available place for us to sleep, the bedroom next to Alex's. I wasn't worried, because we had slept in the same bed together many times and I really didn't think it was a big deal. But when we laid down he started to take off my pants. I started laughing at him. I asked him, "What are you doing?" He told me to just lay down and pushed me on the bed. I asked him to stop but he didn't, he held my hands down above my head with one hand and started taking off his pants with the other one. I started crying and I asked him to stop. He said something and I don't even remember it because I just started praying for God's forgiveness over and over again, and that's really funny if you knew me, because I don't pray to god. I just kept feeling like I was going to hell and I was this really bad person. I cried the whole time it was happening, and when he was finished he just rolled over and went to sleep. I stayed awake all night crying silently. I don't remember why I didn't get up and leave. I just couldn't, I couldn't move. I was so confused, I was like a zombie. In the morning, I took him home. He even gave me a fucking hug. I drove to my parents home, crying the whole way. ... I told my mother the next day, and the first thing she said was "did he wear a condom." I got really angry at her because I couldn't get him to wear a condom I couldn't even get him to get the fuck off of me. I told some friends after a week or so had gone by, and one of them, Alex, the woman who went out with me that night got really mad. She was jealous that we had had sex. Sex? What the fuck? This was not sex. Another friend I knew since I was little said to me, "well, it's not like you were beaten up or anything." So I felt like my pain was unfounded and selfish. I know now that I don't deserve any of this guilt, and never did. It doesn't matter that he was drunk, or that he was someone that everybody wanted. I didn't, and I told him that. What matters is that he knew that he was raping me, he knew that he'd get away with it." A UF student who could not be at the speakout sent this testimony: "When I was 14 years old I went camping with some friends. We were drinking and having a good time. There was this older guy, about 17 years old, very cute and popular, and actually showed interest in me. I thought I must have had something special to attract a guy like, this. So throughout the night we talked, he made me drinks, and we were flirting a lot. That night we kissed, and at 14, that's all I was ready for, but I guess he had other things on his mind. I passed out in one of the tents and I later woke up to find him on top of me, having sex with me, raping me--having sex with a passed-out 14 year old girl. I didn't know how to fight him off, and I was too drunk and confused to say no, or stop. All I could think about was how I let this happen, how I let him steal my virginity and my dignity. And how could he not care that I didn't want to sleep with him? I remember passing out again during the middle of it. And the next morning when I woke up, I remember feeling terrible pain. I felt ripped open. When I realized what had happened, I tried to talk to him. He wouldn't even acknowledge me. At that time, I thought it was somehow my fault, that I was some kind of slut. And slut was exactly what I was called when what had happened got around school. It was all over my junior high and high school. People made up stories about me and were making jokes about me. My best friend's mother wouldn't even let her daughter hang around me because her older brother came home from highschool one day and told his mother what he heard about me... eventually the rumors stopped, but people still remembered. I tried to forget about it, and I did a pretty good job until I got to college. It took until my freshman year here at UF to realize that what had happened to me was rape. I grew up thinking that if a woman got drunk, she basically deserved what would happen. I actually thought that I deserved to get raped. Now I know I sure as hell didn't deserve what he did to me. I wasn't beaten, or held at gunpoint, but I was forcibly raped."
One woman testified about how a man she met at a fraternity party forced his penis into her mouth in the fraternity shower. She pressed charges and the man was arrested, and was ordered to leave Alachua County, but the state attorney didn't prosecute. Because the story was in all the papers, she overheard people talking about her and calling her a whore, saying that she shouldn't have been drinking, saying she had ruined his life and gotten him kicked out of school. Now, since the state attorney has dropped the charges, he may be allowed to return to UP. "Hopefully he will not be allowed back into school here, to show guys that they can't get away with this... Him coming back here shows every guy that no matter how long it's strung out, no matter how much trouble you might get in, in the end it's socially acceptable. For me it's not. I don't want anybody to have to go through what I've had to go through... I'm trying to take an activist role now ... I hope I can make a difference in preventing it from happening to someone else. Despite everything, I stayed here on campus because this is where I want to be."
Campus NOW can be reached at 379-0341 or 377-2301.
Amy Coenen of Gainesville Women's Liberation speaks at the March 25 Campus NOW speakout. She told the story of a friend who was assaulted just a few days before by her estranged husband. "I've been a feminist for many years and I thought nothing a man would do would surprise me any more, but I was surprised," she said. "It just goes to show you, in the end, they can always use force, and if this guy would use it, any guy will use it."
Members of the audience heard woman after woman get up and talk about the pain, shame and humiliation they felt after they were harassed or assaulted. Many now said they feel stronger talking to others and hearing others talk about their own experiences.
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