Campus Sexual Violence: The Experiences of Survivors

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This is the second in a four part series exploring the culture and issues surrounding campus sexual violence.

Sexual violence and rape culture are really dense topics with many nuances. But these issues have a face. Many different faces in fact.

Michael Outrich is a rape survivor. He was raped last year by another male in his dorm room at Ohio University. They met at a party. The perpetrator had too much to drink and Michael offered the guy his couch. “I lived in a very conservative dorm where the guys were really defensive about homosexuality. I didn’t want them to know so I didn’t make any noise, I didn’t make a scene. I didn’t want them to know, “ Outrich said.

Michael’s bisexual, but he was closeted at the time of his assault. For a long while afterward, he fought with emotional and psychiatric issues, issues that he already had from childhood sexual abuse. "If you’re a male survivor, your masculinity is called into question, your sexuality is called into question. What it means to be a man is called, all of that stuff just gets thrown in there," Outrich said. He went public with his story in The Post, Ohio University’s student newspaper.

Michael is a rape survivor, but he’s not who we picture when we think of rape survivors. "The victim is female, she is white, she is thin, she clearly fought back, preferably a virgin or chaste in some way, she was in her own home and the perpetrator was a stranger who broke in," said Bekki Wyss, describing the stereotypical rape survivor. Wyss is a student and member of F Rape Culture, a group of Ohio University students fighting campus sexual violence.

Despite what some may think, rape culture and sexual violence affect everyone in unique ways. No survivor is the same, no act of violence is the same.

delfin bautista is the director of the Ohio University LGBT center. delfin, who doesn’t identify with a specific gender or sexuality, said that people in LGBT communities are disproportionally affected by sexual violence "These stories of violence are happening within our community and we need to talk about them, but its been very controversial, especially on the campus. Many people are not comfortable with the expansion of the conversation."

Studies show that both gay and bisexual people experience sexual assault at much higher rates than their straight counter-parts. As many as 64% of transgender people have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. While sex crimes are underreported across the board, people in LGBT communities are even less likely to report their assault, especially if they’re not open about their sexuality or gender.

Dr. Michelle Pride is the training director at OU’s Counseling and Psychological services. She said that social institutions have a responsibility to support these victims. "There are a number of reasons why it is important to me, as someone who works with people who experience trauma to give voice to their experiences and to be able to advocate for better services and better access to services," Pride said. She specializes in training counselors at the univeristy's heatlh center on how to interact with individuals in LGBT communitities, especially when they've been victimized.

She said the way that campuses like OU's fight rape culture and sexual violence is by creating safer communities that reestablish trust between victims and institutions. Through outreach and education, she says, we can be more aware and provide more help to people in marginalized communities.

But that community is not limited to people of LGBT backgrounds. Bobby Walker is a member of F Rape Culture and a woman of Guyanese descent. She spoke about race at FRC's homecoming rally earlier this year. "That facet of my identity is my identity as a woman of color. I didn’t want to talk about race because it makes people uncomfortable. But to not talk about race is to deny the experiences of women of color," Walker said. She said that when’s she’s harassed on the street, men almost always comment on the color of her skin. For her, race and sexual violence are inextricably linked.

Everyone said their identity as survivors can’t be separated from their personal identities. They don't just fit into easy categories. Survivors like Michael. He says the conversation is changing, at least at Ohio University.

“It’s a tough and sensitive topic, you know but maybe if a guy, or someone who identifies as male, sees somebody actually open up and be vulnerable…. to heal? Maybe that will encourage somebody to do it too," Outrich said.

Next time, we’ll delve deeper into the challenges survivors face, even after they’ve been victimized.

This is the second in a four part series exploring the culture and issues within campus sexual violence.