A group of men and women gathered at Pasco-Hernando State College’s Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch on April 26 for a community seminar on the issue of sexual assault.
The Sexual Assault Awareness Symposium, co-sponsored by PHSC and Sunrise of Pasco County Domestic & Sexual Violence Center covered a social issue that’s often difficult for people to talk about.
It’s a widespread problem, however.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 20 percent to 25 percent of college females are raped at some point in their college career.
It’s an issue that affects the way people think and how they live, said Terri O’Brien, director of training for Sunrise.
About midway through the seminar she asked the same question twice — first to the men assembled, and then to the women.
“What precautions do you take on a daily basis to avoid being sexually assaulted?” she asked.
The men offered no response.
The women, however, did: “Don’t walk to my car alone at night,” one said.
“Watch what you drink at the bar,” said another.
“Have my keys out (when walking to the car),” replied a third.
If she didn’t have to worry, O’Brien said, “I’d sleep with my windows open at night.”
It’s a fear that judges others with a broad brush, she added.
When women walk alone at night, they put their guard up, if they see a male approaching, O’Brien added. It can be “the nicest guy in the world” but most women view him “as a potential threat,” she said.
Such concerns, however, pale in comparison to the trauma that occurs to someone who is sexually assaulted, the experts at the seminar said.
“It changes their entire lives,” said Clarice Freese, a Sunrise counselor who has worked with survivors of sexual violence for 40 years.
The impact of sexual violence affects survivors, loved ones, the community and society, O’Brien said.
“Sexual violence is any type of unwanted sexual contact,” O’Brien said.
“It’s (sexual assault) not about sex. It’s about power, control and anger,” Freese said.
There are lots of ways to pressure people to have unwanted sex, O’Brien said, asking members to offer their thoughts on some of the possibilities.
“Guilt,” one suggested – “Don’t you love me?”
“Blackmail,” said another – “I’m going to out you.”
“Abuse of authority” and ”physical dominance” were other responses offered.
Sexual assault is a hard topic to talk about, Freese said, especially for survivors.
“You’re terrified that you’re going to be blamed,” she said.
When someone is assaulted, it is common to feel numb, she said.
But as those feelings wear off, a rape survivor often feels the need to talk about it.
For those who don’t know where to turn, the rape crisis hotline is a good place to start, Freese said.
“When you call a 1-800 number, wherever you’re calling from, you will be connected to the closest available rape crisis center, automatically connected,” she said.
“When I make that call, I begin to connect with someone that is going to listen through my experience. They will not judge me. They will not make demands of me. They will not say I have to, or I should. They will give me concrete, good information,” Freese said.
“What is information? Information is power,” Freese said.
“I’m going to be given enough information to make a good choice for myself.
“Rape is a crisis. It’s a big one,” Freese said.
But survivors can find their way back from it and they don’t have to do that alone, she said.
What you can do:
- Call the hotline at (352) 521-3120 or call 911, if you choose to report
- If reporting, consider not washing or changing clothes. Important evidence may be collected.
- You have a right to a free exam, whether you report or not.
• If you are unsure of what to do, consider speaking to a rape crisis counselor or someone you trust. Sunrise of Pasco County, Inc. Domestic & Sexual Violence Center, provides services free of charge. For more information, visit SunrisePasco.Org or call (352) 567-1681.
Published May 4, 2016