April to bring more attention to sexual assault awareness

By KC Longley- Senior Journalism major, Editor-in-Chief

Usually, opinion articles tend to be more controversial, testing boundaries and pushing buttons. For the sake of transparency, I will be straight up from the beginning of this piece and point out that I am writing an opinion piece on this topic while also covering the entire Feature section. I will say that my opinion did not interfere with my reporting, but at the same time, that just seems like a dumb thing to say. Because frankly, it did.

Because everyone should care about sexual assault awareness. It’s not some hot topic boundary-pushing conversation piece that might cause an uproar in the middle of the dinner table. People should see the importance of it and want to spread awareness. Honestly, people should give a s—.

But would you believe that some people actually don’t pay that much attention to it? Come off like they don’t care. See the next college student that’s been raped on the nightly news and shrug, say, “Well, guess they’re both going to learn some lessons,” and move on with their evening.

Obviously, I don’t believe this is a worldwide issue for people. I know that a lot of people in this world care, but I’m still going into some finer details for those outliers who don’t understand what I am talking about.

First and foremost, let’s talk about some definitions. Sexual assault, according to The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), is defined as “sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include attempted rape, fondling or unwanted sexual touching.” Additionally, RAINN defines rape as “a form of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape. The term rape is often used as a legal definition to specifically include sexual penetration without consent.”

Now that we have that basic knowledge squared away, let us move on.

There are many types of assault, unfortunately. There is acquaintance rape, which is the most common. According to RAINN, eight out of 10 sexual assaults fall under this category, which is when the assault is committed by someone who the victim knows personally. Intimate partners fall under this category.

Date rape also falls under acquaintance rape, because “date” may refer to someone you’ve gone out with, but it also refers to peers, friends, neighbors, etc.

Stranger rape, which is self-explanatory, includes a few types. Blitz sexual assault, which is a quick, brutal act of assault against the victim with no prior contact beforehand. Contact sexual assault, which is when the perpetrator contacts the victim, gains their trust in some way and then coerces them into a situation where the assault will occur. Lastly, home invasion sexual assault, when a stranger breaks into someone’s house to commit the assault. Basically almost every “Criminal Minds” episode.

As you can see, there are many types of sexual assault. It’s very sad that there are so many definitions for a crime that is so inhumane and shouldn’t be occurring in the first place. But alas, this is the world we live in.

According to the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct that the Association of American Universities performed, 11.2 percent of students reported, “nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation since they enrolled at their university.”

What is sad is the fact that according to this survey, the most common reason that incidents were not reported was that individuals did not think that the reports would not be taken seriously. Furthermore, they were embarrassed, ashamed and thought “that it would be too emotionally difficult,” and they “did not think anything would be done about it.”

Let us talk stats based on gender. According to RAINN regarding undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. (For the record, if you are incapacitated, you are incapable of fighting back for a number of reasons, like being drunk, asleep, under the influence of drugs or passed out. So yes, that would fall under assault, which seems obvious enough).

For the transgender and non-binary community, the stats are even more staggering. Based on a report from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 47 percent of transgender people “have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, and these rates are even higher for trans people of color.”

So, just checking in at where we are so far, the stats are already bad enough for college students when it comes to rape and sexual assault on campus. Just talking as a decent human being here, but I think maybe those stats should lower to say..maybe zero. Just throwing it out there.

But then as we look outside of college campuses, and look at Ohio, specifically Cuyahoga County, our attention lands on untested rape kits. Because of course, that’s a national issue, the fact that there are thousands of untested kits just sitting on shelves in the back of crime labs.

In April 2018, “I Am Evidence,” a documentary about untested rape kits throughout the country that are stacking up in evidence storage facilities, premiered on HBO. A year previously, it was screened at the Cleveland International Film Festival. For my “Law and Order” fans out there, it was produced by Mariska Hargitay, who plays Olivia Benson on SVU. Because of course, Lt. Benson is also a badass woman in real life who isn’t afraid to call people out on how incompetent they are. Hargitay also founded the Joyful Heart Foundation, whose mission is to change society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

When this film premiered and was first discussed, there were approximately 400,000 untested rape kits throughout the country.

But there is a silver lining in that article! According to the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center (CRCC), the backlogged rape kits of Cuyahoga County have been looked into and some red flags were raised. Now, more than 6,000 victim statements are going to be getting a second look. The reason? The way words are used in interviews may have consequences. According to CRCC, “they’re looking for signaling language, or hints, that could cast doubt on the victim’s claims.”

Based on the CRCC report of this development, the chief advocacy officer at CRCC, Teresa Stafford, thinks this is a “game changer” for victims. The hope is that by looking into these cases, the issue of language in interviews will be brought forward and be a catalyst for training in the future. The goal is to remove potential bias when interviewing victims.

Obviously, there are a lot of steps that need to be made regarding sexual assault, be it on college campuses, throughout Cuyahoga County and at the nation level. But hopefully, by providing information and spreading awareness, everyone can become more knowledgeable about this issue and take the steps needed to abolish sexual violence one person at a time.