Project lets rape victims speak out

Take Back the News gives rape and sexual assault victims a chance to share.

by Heather L. Mueller

Victims of rape or sexual assault are being asked to share their recent or past stories of survival.

For the first time, Take Back the News, a national nonprofit organization that confronts misrepresentation and under-representation of sexual assault in mainstream media, is calling on the University community to break the silence about sexual violence.

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E-mail your story by April 20 to: [email protected]

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Contact The Aurora Center
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As part of the Community Print Project, victims can submit a written story and have it published anonymously – free of editing – and distributed locally.

The goal of the project – initiated at the University by sociology and criminology graduate student Heather Hlavka – is to offer victims a platform to draw awareness to the realities of sexual violence.

Sexual assault myths and stereotypes that rape is perpetrated by a stranger or that it only happens to women are often portrayed in media and often confuse victims about the severity of the assault, Hlavka said.

According to a 2000 Sexual Victimization of College Women survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, 65 percent of victims failed to report their rape because they didn’t think it was serious enough.

Estimates claim 80 percent of victims are under the age of 30 and 44 percent under the age of 18. That means college-aged students are more likely to be a victim of sexual assault, yet only 5 percent of attempted rapes and committed rapes against college students are reported to police, according to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service.

Psychology senior Sarah Brunsberg, a project coordinator, said our culture pushes victims into silence.

Victims stray from sharing their story for fear of being stigmatized or judged because of the nature of the experience, she said, which is common if drugs and alcohol played a factor.

Brunsberg said victims won’t be criminally charged for minor consumption if they report being sexually assaulted and that being under the influence should not undermine the nature of the crime.

She said the project should help victims.

“In our culture, what we tend to do is blame the victim or put the victim on ‘trial,’ ” Brunsberg said. “We tend to subtly blame the victim Ö but in reality, it’s their feelings that should be the most important, and no one should be able to say their feelings aren’t valid.”

The University community has taken notice of sexual assault in recent years.

Initiatives such as the Student Conduct Code amendment that allows the University to prosecute students for off-campus sexual assault recently passed, and services offered by Sexual Health Awareness and Disease Education, Boynton Health Services and the Aurora Center help create a network of support and education.

Take Back the News is another medium to create change and build awareness, Brunsberg said.

“We don’t want to remain silent anymore. We want people to read these stories, and hopefully, it will empower the victim and other people to stop disbelieving or discrediting victims,” she said. “And maybe it will debunk rape myths that it was the victim’s fault.”