Column: Sexual assault reality

Editor's Note: The following column was written by the victim of the reported sexual assault in Wannamaker Dormitory Oct. 9. The Chronicle's policy prohibiting unsigned guest columns was waived in this particular case because the editors were able to verify its authenticity and because the opinions contained within it contribute uniquely to campus discourse on sexual assault.

Every weekend on our campus, two women report being sexually assaulted. To put that statistic in perspective: as a female student at Duke, I stand a one in 10 chance of being sexually violated before I leave. Wow.

Until recently, I was aware of only two of these assaults. In both of these cases, the attacker was a stranger to the victim. These attacks are exceptions: The majority of assaults on campus are acquaintance rapes. Very few incidents are criminally prosecuted. In most cases, alcohol is involved. Girls allege rape, guys claim consent and little is done to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Virtually all of the accused attackers are students. These are guys we see every day walking on the Bryan Center walkway, speaking in our classes, and drinking on Saturday nights. This realization hit me hard. Envisioning potential rapists as scary Durhamites, hiding behind bushes was a bit more comforting.

Two weeks ago, my vision of the "scary Durhamite" came true, only the attacker wasn't a Durhamite-I believe he was a student. And he wasn't hiding behind a bush, he was standing in a bathroom stall. The media's account of what happened in that stall is not entirely accurate. While I'll spare details, I would like to clear up a couple of misconceptions. The attack was labeled as an "attempted sexual assault." This is wrong: A sex act was committed against my will. I did not "fight him off and escape to my room." He left--I didn't escape.

I resisted, but at no point during the attack was I in control.

I was struck by how "normal" he looked. Had he been washing his hands, I would have assumed one of my hallmates had a visitor. As the attack ensued, I came to the realization that "bad people" aren't the distant, masked criminals I had once feared--they can be popular, well-shaven, J. Crew-sporting college kids with high GPAs and nice families.

I didn't know the guy, but my situation is unique. Most women are violated by someone they know and trust. On average, only 5 percent of date rapes are reported.

If the statistics I present are not shocking enough, adjust them to include those unvoiced cases. Julie Pike, sexual assault counselor at CAPS, affirmed this, saying, "Many women who know their assailant do not report for fear of being disbelieved or for fear of being blamed for the attack." Unfortunately, these fears aren't unfounded. We like to pretend that the questions "What was she wearing?" and "Was she drunk?" justify the attacker's behavior. The answers to these questions are irrelevant. Most of us are guilty of dressing "less than conservatively" and drinking too much on occasion--but that doesn't make us acceptable targets.

Women: Accept the fact that you are potential rape victim. I know many of you operate under the illusion "it will never happen to me." It may.

During my time at Duke, sexual assault has been talked about in moderation--primarily after scary bathroom encounters. The dialogue seems to fade, however, as new locks are installed and safety measures are discussed. No one wants to talk about the real issue: Sexual assault is a reality on our campus. The attacks are scary, but attacks are happening every weekend. Perhaps what makes this situation even more tragic is that no one is scurrying to change locks, increase security and start discussions about safety on campus in response to these "every weekend" attacks. Instead, there is silence--and we wait until the next weekend.

To those who have been affected by this increasing trend on our campus, I offer two things. First, a definition: Sexual assault is any sex act (oral, vaginal or anal) committed or attempted without consent or committed when consent cannot be freely given (e.g., drunk, passed out, etc.).

Second, I offer you an invitation to talk candidly about your experiences, your frustrations or your fears. If you have been affected by this issue in any capacity and are willing to share your story, I urge you to contact me at or through campus mail at Box 93920. This invitation is open to men and women and is not extended exclusively to victims. If you heard a relevant conversation last Friday at a party, send me that dialogue. If you think this issue is being overblown, send me your argument. Nothing is out of bounds. If any document is compiled, all names will remain anonymous.

To those of you who feel uncomfortable disclosing your story--even anonymously--in a public arena, let me know. I do hope that you will share your knowledge with me on a personal level. Right now, I'm grasping for ways to deal with this constructively. Input from anyone--especially past victims--might help convert my feeling of "Why me?" to "Why anyone?"


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