Life

A walk in their shoes: Seven women from East Central Illinois share stories of sexual violence

By FRED KRONER
fred@mahometnews.com

There is an idiom that encourages people to not pass judgment until they have walked in the other person’s shoes.

The sentiment is as valid today as it was centuries ago.

For more than a year, we have heard from women throughout the country coming forward to share charges of sexual abuse, often about incidents which they said took place decades ago.

There are those among us who want to discount allegations which are years old, contending if they were true, they would have been recounted at the time.

In recent weeks, The Daily staff has been in contact with women from throughout the area who suffered abuse, some from individuals close to their family or themselves, some from persons they did not know.

The idea is not to recount all the horrid and the traumatic details, but to help gain an understanding of why they — and so many others — have remained silent for years.

For that reason, their real names will not be used. These women all want the emphasis to be centered on the points they are making rather than the identity of the speakers.

And, why they can now discuss their ordeals.

They are women who grew up and still live in Mahomet, some who have moved to the village, and others who currently reside in communities within a 25-mile radius of Champaign-Urbana.

One woman has not made all of her family members aware of what transpired years ago.

One is a teenager. One is a current University of Illinois graduate student.

One point to take from these women is that incidents such as they chronicle don’t just happen “there.” They happen “here.”

“I believe that achievable outcome boils down to waking up the people in our country, cities, towns, neighborhoods,” said Tiffany, a graduate student at Illinois, “that the stories survivors share should be believed until there is a reason not to. That the “he said/she said” argument shouldn’t be a basis for not reporting these incidents, and that those individuals who are innocent should not be scared of being accused with these crimes.

“We risk nothing by believing survivors — yet we risk the lives of our children by not believing that these things can, and do, happen. The argument that coming forward ruins the lives of those accused, is nothing compared to the years of mental — and sometimes physical — anguish that survivors must suffer through because even when those who are guilty are held accountable for their crimes, it doesn’t cure survivors of their struggles.

“Instead, it helps push us, as a country, to the day where everyone feels safe in their own body.”

One point of agreement between the women: it shouldn’t be a surprise that victims have been reluctant to come forward.

Here, then, are their stories.

***

Tiffany, who is now in her 20s, was raised in Champaign County.

She was first assaulted when she was a high school freshman. Her response emphasizes the need for education.

“When I was first attacked, I didn’t even know what to call it,” Tiffany said. “I was 15-years old and dating my very first boyfriend. He was 18 and graduating high school my freshman year.

“I was under the impression that it was my obligation to have sex with him or perform sexual acts. It never even occurred to me that you could be raped by a significant other until much later.

“We dated for 2 1/2 years, and the relationship, in the end, was extremely toxic. When I finally realized that what had gone on for most of our relationship  — him sexually, verbally and emotionally abusing me — it felt like it was too late (to report). I didn’t have proof and it would be my word against his. So, minus a few friends, I remained silent about the ordeal.”

Even with the benefit of hindsight, Tiffany still struggles with how she should have reacted.

“Should I not hang out with any boy alone because there’s a chance that he could hurt me?” she wondered. “How do you explain to a 15-year-old girl — who thinks she’s in love — that that boy isn’t right for her, and she believe you?”

Tiffany was still in high school when the second assault occurred.

“The next attack came when I was 17,” she said. “I had been talking to this boy that I really liked and would hang out with from time to time.

“I met with him one night to just hang out and look at the stars. It wasn’t until he was trying to take off my clothes and I realized that I was crying, that I discovered what was happening.

“I pushed him away and immediately told a mutual friend. That friend confronted him and a rumor was then started saying that I was the one who instigated everything, that I was a tease, slut, etc.

“Again, it would have been his word against mine, so I let it go.”

There is no obvious solution on how to handle such brutality.

“Asking what victims could have done differently isn’t an easy question, anymore than asking the same question of someone who has committed such violence,” Tiffany said. “If anything, I suppose the answer to this question falls in being familiar with the signs of danger.

“If you feel uncomfortable or that something is wrong, then that’s probably the case. But women — and men — should not have to live in fear that this will happen to them. Instead, being aware and safe is the answer.”

Tiffany was assaulted again as an undergraduate at the UI.

“I was 20 years old and picking up a drunk friend from a bar,” she said. “He had been at a party with mutual friends and they asked me to come join.

“He and I had an intimate past together, but had remained friends after deciding that it wouldn’t go any further.”

She did what her heart told her was the right thing.

“I drove him home and made sure that he made it up to his apartment,” Tiffany said. “He was so drunk he could barely walk. Once in his apartment, I walked him to the couch and then started to get him a glass of water.

“He grabbed me by the hand and pulled me onto the couch with him, after which he began kissing me.

“I told him no and to stop … multiple times. Instead of listening, he climbed on top of me and began taking off my clothes. When I tried to stop him, he began choking me. I couldn’t breathe, let alone speak.

“When he noticed that he was, in fact, choking me, and that I had tears streaming down my face, he climbed off of me and ran to the bathroom to vomit.”

Despite the ordeal with the person she considered a friend, the compassionate side of Tiffany quickly emerged.

“I stayed with him that night to make sure he didn’t choke on his own vomit while asleep,” she said. “I promptly left the next morning and didn’t say anything about the night before. He couldn’t remember a thing.”

Eventually, she confronted the man.

“Sometime later I told him about what happened that night,” Tiffany said. “He cried and apologized for what he had done. It didn’t make me feel better, yet I still — somehow — considered him my friend.

“Why would I want to get him in trouble for something he couldn’t even remember happening?”

In retrospect, Tiffany said situations like these are not black and white where only one response is correct and must always be the course to take.

“Why shouldn’t I be a good person and help my drunk guy friends get home,” she asked.

Two years ago, Tiffany was again victimized.

“I was 21 years old,” she said. “I met a guy at a bar and he plied me with drinks until I was drunk.

“He asked if I wanted to come watch some Netflix special back at his apartment and I said sure, thinking that’s all we would do.

“He took me to his room and began taking off my clothes. He began to rape me, and despite my drunken pleas for him to stop, he continued to try and convince me that this was what I wanted.

“I gained the strength to get him off me, scrambled for my clothes and ran out of the apartment clutching my shoes.”

She went to the home of a male friend and sobbingly explained what happened.

“I cried and cried,” Tiffany said, “and was told that maybe if I wasn’t drunk this wouldn’t have happened.

“What was I to suspect was going to happen when a guy asked me to hang out and watch Netflix. .. it was my fault.”

Once again, Tiffany did not report the attack to authorities.

Coping with the aftermath can be as traumatic as the attack, Tiffany said.

“For a long time, before I began telling people about the incidents I had endured, I felt incredibly alone in my struggle,” Tiffany said. “I knew that there had to be other people out there who had experienced the same things I had. We see it on television all the time, but without a support system, without someone to talk to, I felt very isolated.”

And when she did share, the feedback wasn’t always beneficial.

“When I first began to tell people, they didn’t really know how to react, or I would be met with things like ‘but you seem so normal?’ “ Tiffany said. “Like being abused in this way would change who I was, and I guess in some ways it did.

“I stopped going to bars in downtown Champaign. I didn’t really enjoying ‘going out’ anymore.”

She recognizes, however, that talking with others was an important step.

“Telling my story was something that needed to happen for me to begin healing and moving past what had happened,” Tiffany said. “By holding on to these situations, it felt like I was still just as powerless.

“Sharing my story, even if I cried while doing so, felt like it gave me back some of the power that I had been robbed of.”

Tiffany is still not completely comfortable revealing and reliving details of the attacks, especially to strangers, saying she was, “a little bit scared and a little bit empowered.

“Scared because there’s still that 15-year-old girl inside me, worried that people will think I am speaking out to gain attention, that I ‘made it all up.’ But also empowered because it has helped me in healing.

“I sometimes refer to myself as being ‘broken’ by these experiences, but by sharing my story, I have created a network of people to help me put the pieces back together and move forward. It has made me an advocate for those who are scared to speak out and a voice for the voiceless.”

Tiffany, who will graduate next spring from the UI with a master’s degree, is still haunted by the past.

“It weighs (mentally) a ton,” she said. “I, to this day, continue to battle with depression and sometimes find myself having flashbacks to these events.

“There have been times, even today, when I am being intimate with my significant other that I break down in tears because my mind flashes back to these incidents.

“It’s not fair to him to have to see me like that and struggle in this way, nor is it fair that I have to suffer the aftermath of these individuals’ choices. It is something that I continue to work through.”

**

Margaret is a Mahomet resident who has endured sexual assault, harassment and rape.

She was 5 years old when the first assault took place.

Others happened when she was in high school, and again when she was in college.

None of the attacks were ones she reported.

“The assault that happened when I was 5 was petrifying,” Margaret said. “I was literally scared to death. I never spoke of it until I was an adult.

“Even at that very young age, I felt extremely ashamed. I also had that feeling that if I didn’t talk about it, maybe I could pretend it didn’t happen. I had feelings of shame with every single incident.

“I thought that there was something about me that brought these things on. Looking back on it all years later, I cognitively know that I didn’t do anything to cause the assaults, but there is a lingering feeling of shame that doesn’t seem to completely disappear.”

By not reporting incidents, there is a price to pay.

“There is a feeling of aloneness,” Margaret said. “It has helped over the years to talk about the assaults with close friends.

“The more I have shared, the more others have shared with me, and I have realized that I am certainly not alone. In fact, the women who have not experienced a sexual assault of some kind are the ones in the minority.”

There is a difference, however, in sharing the experience with close friends and in posting on Facebook or talking with a reporter.

Margaret acknowledged that the #MeToo movement has provided women the encouragement and confidence to come forward.

There are other factors, she said.

“I have recently felt compelled to speak about my experiences because I have been extremely frustrated by the attitudes of many people who continue to diminish the importance of this topic,” Margaret said. “I have read some extremely insensitive posts, memes and cartoons belittling the trauma that survivors have experienced due to sexual assault.

“I am also frustrated that as a society we keep putting perpetrators and defenders of assault in positions of political power. How are we to erase the rape culture that exists if our leaders and representatives think it is no big deal?”

The decision to relive the experience comes with some trepidation.

“It’s not the kind of thing that you really want the world to know about,” Margaret said. “Talking to close friends about it has been healing, but putting my stories out there for the general public feels rather scary.

“I definitely feel that I have done the right thing by sharing my stories, though, because dozens of women have thanked me in person, through written notes, and through private messages, for being brave enough to speak out.”

It is not only important she believes, but also imperative for victims to no longer remain quiet.

“Most of those women said they have had similar experiences and are trying to find the courage to talk about them,” Margaret said. “I think that we women have little choice at this point if we ever want things to change.

“We have to fight the inherent feelings of shame and let the world know that most of us have had these experiences. We need to flip the narrative to one where the perpetrators, not the survivors, are the ones who should be ashamed.

“This is the only way victims will be safe to report assaults to authorities.”

The assaults continue to affect Margaret even though it has been more than four decades since the first one occurred.

“These events have not defined me, but have definitely had long-lasting effects,” she said. “I do not put myself in situations where I am alone with a man.

“If that ever happens, like in an elevator or something, my heart starts racing and I feel fear physically, in my body.

“I am hyper-vigilant when walking alone. When I see scenes of sexual violence on TV or in movies, adrenaline rushes through my body and I have to fight back tears. I don’t walk around thinking about my assaults every day, but there are certainly triggers that bring up feelings of fear and anxiety.”

Margaret was encouraged that other women contacted by The Daily were willing to share their stories.

“Although it is hard, I encourage my sister survivors to tell their stories,” she said. “I truly think it is one key way to shift the paradigm.

“There is power in numbers. When so many survivors speak out, their stories cannot be denied, and society will be forced to alter the way we handle incidents of sexual violence.”

**

Like Margaret, Agnes is an area resident who never told anyone about the assault when it occurred. Decades later, she confided in a therapist and also told her husband.

She said there were several reasons for not coming forward at the time.

“I was an innocent child who had no knowledge of sexual behavior and was therefore totally confused,” Agnes said. “Even as a child, I felt foolish and ashamed for allowing myself to be manipulated into a vulnerable position by a teenage boy.

“I wanted to protect my parents from knowing about this shameful thing that had happened to me. I then totally suppressed the incident as a way to cope with a dark secret I did not have the capacity to understand.”

Fear was also a factor, she added.

“He had held a knife to my throat and afterward he told me not to tell anyone,” Agnes related.

In reflection, she believes there were other factors holding her back from speaking up at the time.

“I somehow believed I was responsible for having allowed myself to be put into a vulnerable position and was ashamed to tell others because of that,” Agnes said. “While I hadn’t ‘asked for it,’ I had not screamed, ran or fought.

“I simply trusted him and had no clue what he was about to do until it was happening. I felt foolish for trusting him since I really did not know him that well. I just didn’t want to think about it ever again.”

She now recognizes that it is critical for voices like hers to be heard.

“I feel compelled to do so in order to dispel the comments and judgements that accuse women who wait to report of trying to manipulate a situation or gain notoriety,” Agnes said. “I also want to make it evident that there are a high percentage of ‘normal’  women and men who have experienced sexual assault, but have not talked about it.”

Agnes is considering doing more than talking with the media.

“I am thinking about reporting it to the police even though it happened roughly 55 years ago,” she said. “I am thinking about reporting it officially because I just found out the perpetrator is still alive and where he lives.”

Sharing her story now, Agnes said, “makes me feel less ashamed and alone and helpful to others who have not been able to share for the same reasons.”

She has no regrets putting her story on the record, but Agnes said she is unsure if it will provide the outcome she sought.

“I am not sure it if will help me heal,” she said. “I spent the last week grieving; crying and sobbing on occasion when I did not expect it. I guess time will tell.

“I had hoped that by sharing, it might make a difference in the Supreme Court and in the Presidency, but now I am not hopeful of that anymore. I fear a backlash instead since a group of angry white men seeking power are winning their battle to seize control of our country and to pick on the weaker among our society and world in order to gain wealth and power.

“I am sad when I hear women siding with these men because I know they are doing so out of fear, and as a result of lies and manipulation,” Agnes added. “However, in my case, having spoken up makes me feel empowered and less vulnerable somehow and prepared to take on this fight.

“During the weeks of Dr. Ford’s testimony and the resulting Supreme Court confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, I first felt tentatively hopeful, then tragically betrayed. I am now left with feelings of rage.

“I can’t help but believe there are millions out there who feel like me. We will persist.”

**

Lisa, who is now in her 40s, grew up in a small town in central Illinois and currently resides in another small town in the state.

Like many Americans, Lisa followed the events leading up to Kavanaugh’s swearing in as a Supreme Court Justice.

She heard the words spoken by a woman who accused him of assault, Christine Blasey Ford, and she was aware of the reaction of President Trump, who was derisive about the woman not knowing the year the assault took place, the location or other details, such as the room.

Lisa can totally relate to Blasey Ford’s feelings. The attacks are not something to celebrate and remember.

They are moments to forget, if at all possible.

Lisa was assaulted twice by different family friends in her pre-teen years.

“I do not recall the date, month or year it all happened,” she said. “As a child, I think I tried to block it out as a defense or self-protection mechanism.

“There are gaps in my memory from when I was a child. I can’t even remember what ages I was when it happened. But I do clearly know who they are, without a single doubt at all.”

Lisa felt that reporting either of the assaults was not an option.

“I grew up in a family that secrets stay secret and I was taught that you do not discuss issues in public or private,” Lisa said. “We must maintain an image at all costs.

“I knew if I had told my parents, they would not believe me, and they were the only ones I could have told. It would have broken my family apart and I would be forever blamed for the scandal that I caused.”

To this day, Lisa has family members who are unaware of the abuse.

She felt a responsibility not to report the assaults, and her mindset has not changed over time.

“Looking back, I don’t think I would have done anything different,” Lisa said. “I felt it was my duty to be strong and keep quiet to protect my family.

“I wasn’t angry until much later in life. I was frustrated that I knew it had happened to others in my family, but we could not talk about it.

“Just like alcoholism, everyone knew the alcoholic, but we could never talk about it as a family. If it was mentioned or hinted at, we were taken to another room to have ‘the talk.’ The dirty and disgusted looks on other family members faces told me to never bring it up, pretend like nothing is wrong. It is like this about all ‘uncomfortable’ topics in my family.”

It took years, but Lisa eventually shared her story for the first time with a close friend. She felt like a boulder had been lifted from her shoulders.

“I was with a friend at Hardee’s,” Lisa said. “We liked the French fries at the time. I was 18, and for no reason in particular that I recall, I stated what had happened to me as a child.

“My friend was stunned because one of my abusers was someone she knew and the other one she did not know. She was shocked and didn’t know what to say.”

For Lisa, it was a matter-of-fact account.

“I remember that I didn’t cry or get emotional at all,” she said. “I just stated it as a situation that happened. I do recall the feeling I had that night.

“It was a relief of sorts. It felt like it was time to say it and that it was OK to say it out loud. I recall feeling like I could see the pain and silence leaving my body with each word I said out loud.

“It is a night that I have never forgotten.”

More than two decades later, she can recall every detail about the restaurant conversation.

“I can remember the location of the restaurant, the booth we were sitting in, which side of the booth I was sitting on and what we ordered,” Lisa said. “That is how profound the moment was that I spoke the words out loud for the first time.

“As I would later learn in college, that was the first step in healing and attempting to make sense of my childhood. I learned that saying the words help to heal and forgive.

“It also helps to identify the pattern of abusers and what signs to look for in future situations.

Once you recognize the signs, your defense mechanism kicks in really fast and you do whatever it takes to get away from that type of person if you can, but not everyone can.”

In retrospect, Lisa realizes that many of the actions she took and decisions she made as a teenager were based on the sexual abuse.

“I took every precaution I could think of to never let anyone put me in an uncomfortable situation again,” Lisa said. “Some of my friends and family could not understand why I took the precautions that I did, but it did not change my behavior.

“I never wanted to be the center of attention, never wore tight-fitting clothes or even attractive bright colored clothes, because I did not want men to notice me at all.

“I am stronger now and have relaxed those behaviors, but I worry about other women and girls.”

When Lisa moved away from home, she began the process of dealing with her emotions.

“I really started to deal with it in college when I finally was living on my own,” she said. “Knowledge about patterns of abuse is what finally made me realize that it was not my fault, that it was the other person’s unresolved issues that had never been dealt with that made them act the way they did.

“I began to feel sorry for my abusers because I realized they were in pain and had no way to let it out, because of the culture in those days. I realized that they grew up thinking that this is the way things are and did not have the education or opportunity to change the direction of their lives and patterns.”

With difficulty, Lisa has left behind the anger.

“I began talking about my experience more and more to those I trusted to listen and, yes, it helped me heal in ways that I did not expect,” Lisa said. “I have forgiven my abusers because that is the only way to let it go and not let it continue to haunt you.

“The experiences did make me afraid of men for a large chunk of time in my life.”

Lisa said it is tough to find the words to express the message she’d like to send to other women who have been victimized.

“For the most part I would say, don’t be afraid to let the pain go,” Lisa said. “Don’t be afraid to let it out, to say the words out loud, even if just to the wind.

“Saying it out loud starts the healing process and it will be painful, but the process is worth it for you and your mental health.

“We will never know what will happen to most of the abusers, but I feel that they will get what is coming to them one day. We may never know, but they have to answer some day for their behavior and in a small way that gives me some comfort.”

She encourages others to not keep their feelings bottled up inside.

“I feel that it is vital to anyone dealing with the secret to find someone to tell, even if that person is a stranger,” Lisa said. “To start healing, you literally must let it escape your body through your words. As painful as those words are to say, it is, in my opinion, the first step to healing.

“It worked for me that night I let the words and the shame escape my body. Not everyone can do this and everyone’s situation is different.

“The women in my family literally took it to their grave and never spoke about their abuse because in those times, it was more shameful to bring scandal to your family than it was to address your mental health. If you told a family secret, it was a sign of weakness not strength. I feel sorry for those women who carried that burden with them all of their lives.”

**

Katherine, who is now in her 30s, lives in a small east central Illinois community.

Unlike the other women who shared their stories with The Daily, Katherine reported her rape about a month after it occurred.

“ I was living on campus at the time of my assault,” Katherine said. “I had two drinks. I was opening my door to my dorm when a man, another student, forced his way in and raped me.

“There was one witness who was frozen with fear and too scared to stop it.”

Katherine went to the hospital the next day, but did not immediately contact police.

“I was scared because I knew he lived in the dorms next to me,” she said. “I wanted to pretend it was a dream.”

In the interim, there was pressure applied for Katherine to remain silent.

“I received death threats from two of his friends warning me to keep quiet,” she said.

Katherine subsequently found out she wasn’t  the only person her attacker had also assaulted.

“About a month or so later, I reported it to the university,” Katherine said. “I also found out he did it to another woman. She did not report it either.”

She was stunned by the outcome of the investigation.

“ A judicial hearing took place,” Katherine said. “He was found guilty by six out of six university members, which included faculty, students and staff.

“However, only three of the six felt it was a ‘violent’ rape. Because the injuries were not visible to them, three of them felt it wasn’t ‘that bad.’

“Nothing ever happened to the person who assaulted me. I was told by administration that this could ruin his future in sports.”

Katherine took a break from college.

“I put my schooling on hold and returned when I knew he was gone,” she said.

Katherine has been unable to share anything about her ordeal with her family.

“I come from a family that blames the victim,” she said. “They have no idea that this even happened.

“I have witnessed them make comments about stories on television and say things like, ‘well, what did she expect to happen after drinking and letting someone walk her home?’

“I was not about to let them do this to me. I was barely holding it together as it was. Still am.”

Sharing her story with The Daily did not provide Katherine with a sense of shedding a burden.

“It does not feel good yet,” she said. “It is terrifying.”

One of the hardest aspects for Katherine is dealing with the issue of whom is believed when reports are filed.

“There is no question it happened with my story,” she said. “There were witnesses. People were mainly concerned about HIS future.

“As a compliant, people-pleasing female, I too questioned that. Now, as a mother, it makes me sick.”

She remains unable to answer the question: What do you wish you had done differently?

“I am not sure because I don’t even know how to handle it now,” Katherine said. “I wish I could have been surrounded by people that were concerned about how this would impact MY future.

“The only thing I can think to do now is to be a woman who supports other women, to raise a son to respect women and to raise a daughter who doesn’t have to live in a world where shame is a part of sexual assault.”

One point she has learned is where to place the blame.

“The guilt and shame of the assault belongs to the person who did it,” Katherine said. “Set that down. It is not yours to carry.”

**

Julie is in her 60s and currently resides in Mahomet.

She still has flashbacks, and watching the testimony from Christine Blasey Ford brought an unwelcome flood back to the forefront.

“I was not prepared for the huge wall of emotions that rushed forward and smashed me in the face and chest as I watched Dr. Blasey Ford testify,” Julie said. “For 2 1/2 days I couldn’t turn my mind off.

“Tears came easily, but also some sense of peace and ‘lightness’ as I listened and learned from the voices of so many victims that have finally felt they could come forward.

“I’ve reflected long and hard on what happened so long ago and how much the emotional baggage I buried for so many years had weighed on me.

“My head doesn’t feel lighter anymore. I wonder if what I thought was more that it felt lighter in the mistaken relief or belief women truly are being listened to and believed.”

Julie was a teenager more than 40 years ago and remembers what the environment was like during that time period.

“Growing up during the ‘60s and ‘70s was a heady rush of freedom for many of us,” Julie said. “It was fun when older guys talked to us and not uncommon to ride around town in their cars or on their bikes.

“Sexual aggression and assault wasn’t a term I remember knowing. If it went any further, it was consensual between those involved and wasn’t seen as that big of a deal within a great many of my generation.”

She felt at fault when she was assaulted originally.

“The first time, I blamed myself for being stupid enough to get in a car with someone that wasn’t part of our regular group and he turned out to be a creep,” Julie said. “He was the brother of a good friend and I didn’t know he was 12 years older or that he was married until much later.

“I learned valuable lessons that day about strength vs. feeling powerless and being careful and aware.”

Julie felt it was something she needed to keep hidden.

“The thought of going to the police never crossed my mind,” she said. “I sure wasn’t telling my parents.

“The first two times, I did not report it because, honestly, back then you shrugged off stuff like that. That does not mean things that happened so many years ago don’t continue to haunt your brain.”

Julie still harbors resentment.

“I now wonder what I would do if we crossed paths in the store,” Julie said. “Would I ignore him?

“I think I would probably punch him HARD, but then he could file assault charges on me.”

Julie said it’s not easy to relive that part of the past.

“It’s hard to open up old memories when they’ve never gone away,” she said. “Certain memories surrounding the incident fade, but the images of being sexually violated mentally and physically does NOT.

“I don’t even need to close my eyes to relive it anymore. Hearing certain names keep it real over and over again.

“I think the hardest part is dealing with the emotions I’m going through and starting to accept that it wasn’t something I caused.”

Julie was assaulted a total of three times.

“The next two times were people close to me that I loved and had trusted,” she said. “The first time I put down to horseplay and ‘guys will be guys.’

“I almost convinced myself, except for the groping involved. No one would’ve believed me if I told. It would’ve been twisted into my doing something to cause it.”

**

Hanna is an area teenager who was assaulted on school property. Her mother, who asked not to be identified, spoke about how the situation was handled. Hanna is not her daughter’s real name.

“When assaults happen in private, there is absolutely the assumption that the perpetrator will be believed over the victim,” the mother said. “This is still very true today.

“My daughter was sexually assaulted not long ago by an older boy at an after-school function at an evening event.

“It took her a week to tell us, her family.”

Though the mother was outraged, she also knew it was imperative to watch how she reacted.

“When my daughter was assaulted, I almost had a breakdown,” she said. “It was almost too much for me to handle, but I knew I had to be strong for her.”

The mother then immediately contacted the school administrators, she said, “assuming that this boy would receive severe consequences.”

Her daughter, she said, was “made to tell the details of the assault to adults she did not know in the middle of the school day,” the mother said.

“Unfortunately, the administrators told us that it was a ‘he said, she said’ case and since there was no evidence, they could not administer a formal consequence. The phrase ‘boys will be boys’ was actually used, which was infuriating.”

Rather than remain bitter, the mother directed attention and affection to her daughter.

“Thankfully, my whole family showed my daughter much love and support, along with the critical message that we believed her and that it was not her fault,” the mother said. “We have also gotten her the professional help she needs to process the assault thoroughly, which will hopefully prevent her from living with guilt and shame.”

The daughter is still attending school in the same district.

**

As for the next step in eradicating the stigma and sending the message about what will no longer be tolerated, Lisa believes a change of perspective could be a starting point.

“I think I would like the focus to shift from educating women to protect themselves from assault,” Lisa said, “to educating men or anyone that has the thoughts that they have the right to do whatever they want to someone’s body without their consent, to get help, get counseling, that their reasons for those thoughts and potential actions are not OK, and they need to get them under control.

“They are the ones with mental health issues and they are the ones responsible for getting help.”

The theme needs to be repeated on a grand scale, not just locally or regionally.

“We need national attention to the mental health crisis of rape culture and it needs to start by exposing and understanding why men or others rape or sexually assault others,” Lisa said. “That should be the national focus, not just always about the victim or recovery of the victim.

“That is extremely important, but the tide needs to shift to expose those who use their power over others for their ego or whatever it is called. I would like to see more education about preventing men and others from becoming perpetrators or abusers and let them know society will not tolerate them acting on those impulses and the shame and blame will be on them and not the victims.”

Margaret believes there are other avenues to change.

“Another key component to ending sexual assault is by explicitly teaching consent,” Margaret said. “This must start very early.

“Young children should not be forced to hug people, for example, even their family members.

Parents should teach their children that they are the only ones in charge of their own bodies, and they decide what is OK.

“Schools must teach consent in developmentally appropriate ways. There are some excellent programs out there designed for schools to implement. In high school, it is critical to teach kids about consent, without mincing words.”

For victims, Margaret urges them to come forward.

“I would like to tell girls and women out there that if you do experience sexual violence, start by telling the person you trust most,” she said. “You need a friend or family member to comfort you and then help you decide a plan of action.”

Margaret said there is also a responsibility for those hearing the words of victims.

“I would also like to spread the message that if someone tells you they have been sexually assaulted, please believe them,” Margaret added. “Do not ask any questions about the situation, just listen and comfort.

“Tell your friend you believe them and will help them get through it in any way you can. Then follow through, but do not make someone feel guilty if they do not want to report it to authorities.

“They are already feeling guilt, so please do not pile on more.”

Tiffany believes that media reports on the frequency of assaults will never be accurate.

“Just remember, where there is one person coming forward with their own story, there are more than a handful of men or women behind them with similar stories,” Tiffany said. “The #MeToo movement was just the tip of the iceberg and until we face these issues as a country and stand united, this will continue to be a massive problem.”

Tiffany offers a message for women who find themselves victims of any type of sexual assault.

“I see you. I hear you. I believe you. And I am here for you,” she said.

**

Local stories are never isolated incidents. Sexual violence is a systemic problem in the United States. The statistics show that it is far more common than many want to recognize.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “one in three women and one in six men in the United States have experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.”  Even more alarmingly, “one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.”

The statistics show that sexual violence doesn’t just end after adolescence. More than “one-third of women who report being raped before age 18 also experience rape as an adult. ”

More often than not, the abuser is not someone hiding in an alleyway waiting to prey on a victim.

Of the “91 percent of women who are raped in the United States, 51.1% of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance. ”

Whether an individual or parent is looking for information on how to talk about sexual violence, groups to join to educate others on sexual violence, if someone needs to talk about the sexual violence they have experienced or report it to the authorities, there are a growing number of organizations whose mission it is to help.

RACES (Rape Advocacy, Counseling and Education Services) The mission of Rape Advocacy, Counseling, & Education Services is to challenge the rape culture and empower victims and survivors of sexual violence through advocacy, counseling, education, crisis intervention, and activism.
RACES offers a variety of services to victims/survivors of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment and their non-offending significant others who live or work in Champaign, Douglas, Ford, and Piatt counties in East-Central Illinois.  All services are free and confidential.
For immediate assistance, please call our Rape Crisis Hotline at (217) 384-4444. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, our professional staff and trained volunteers provide a listening ear, information, and referrals to assist you and your significant others 365 days a year!

Toll free hotline: 1-877-236-3727

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org y rainn.org/es) in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

Services at the University of Illinois

  • Women’s Resources Center—provides crisis management, advocacy, and other support services. Contact the Center @ 217.333.3137 or womenscenter@illinois.edu.
  • Rape Advocacy Counseling & Education Services (RACES)—provides individual counseling and other support services. Contact their office @ 217.344.6298, or the 24-hour crisis line @ 217.384.4444.
  • University of Illinois Counseling Center—provides individual and group therapy to aid in recovering from sexual trauma. Initial appointments are made on a same-day basis by calling the Counseling Center at 217.333.3704 any time after 7:50 a.m. Appointments tend to fill up quickly. Students are encouraged to call early on the day that they would like to meet with a counselor.

Report Sexual Violence at the University of Illinois

  • Police (University of Illinois)—immediate emergency reports can be made @ 911. For non-emergency situations call University of Illinois Police @ 217.333.1216. The University of Illinois Police work closely with other police agencies and student affairs units to ensure students receive comprehensive services when they make the decision to report an incident.
  • Office for Student Conflict Resolution—handles complaints against University of Illinois students related to sexual misconduct. They are located @ 300 Turner Student Services Building; 610 E. John Street, Champaign. You can contact them for an appointment to talk with a dean @ 217.333.3680 or email conflictresolution@illinois.edu. They are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information visit their website @ www.conflictresolution.illinois.edu.
  • Civil No Contact Order—a court order that requires the offender to stay away from the victim. You can get it on your own by going to the Champaign Co. Court House and ask the Circuit Clerk for assistance with the forms. You can also call both the Women’s Resources Center (217.333.3137) and Rape Advocacy Counseling & Education Services (217.344.6298) to ask for assistance and to have someone go to court with you. For more information about the CNCO see brochure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Amazing piece to read in the Mahomet paper. Thank you to all the brave women who shared their stories here. And thank you to Fred Kroner for writing the piece and for providing so many helpful resources at the end.

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