The Color Purple
October is Domestic Assault Awareness month, and given the recent media coverage of sexual assault in higher education, The Beacon has decided to dedicate our front page towards bring awareness to prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses.
The Sexual Violence Resource Center states that one out of every four women in a higher educational institution will experience sexual violence at some point. Of those one out of four, 90% of them will have already known their rapist.
It seems staggering that such statistics can be found right here, in arguably the most developed country in western society. The explanation of this phenomenon is far and wide ranging, from the media’s portal of a woman’s body, our cultural avoidance of anything sexual, gendered entitlement and male privilege, and the stigma surrounding survivors of sexual assault.
Here at our small community college, where the vast majority of the populous commutes, it may appear that sexual violence doesn’t occur. But sexual assault and violence can take many forms, from verbally suggestive and offensive remarks, to violent rape.
The culture surrounding sexual assault in North American Society (and one could argue the world at large) is often one of shame, secrecy, and silence. It is undeniably one of the hardest subjects to talk about, yet only about 5% of their rapes that took place on a college campus will ever be reported. A survivor of sexual assault or harassment may not wear their wounds openly, but the trauma sustained from such an experience often times lingers for years.
Three women are murdered every day in the United States by an intimate partner. That’s ninety women dying at the hands of boyfriends and husbands every month, and over 1,000 in just one year. In the amount of time it will take you to finish reading this article, another person in the United States will have been sexually assaulted.
The most important step we can take as a nation to eradicating sexual assault and domestic violence begin a dialogue, and as a community, it is our responsibility to continue this dialogue, and to bring the end of sexual violence on college campuses out from the shadows and into the light, into our conversations, and into our words and actions.
The Ugly Truth
Growing up being a college student had a sense of self- fabricated sense of glamour. You probably imagined football games, being a resident, parties, and friendships that would last a lifetime. Sorry to pop your bubble, but once you’re in college it’s never really how you pictured it in your mind growing up, another thing that comes with the college package is unwanted attention and harassment. Harassment happens everywhere even at SMCC. Surely some of you have contemplated on wearing a cute top, and didn’t because it accentuates your chest “too” much fearing the cat calls and vocal harassment. Other times, a sign of kindness can also bring harassment in the assumption that you’re “flirting”, or that you “want” that person which isn’t the case and now you’re being ridiculed either because you clarified and shot down their attempt you get with you. It’s sad to say, but this is an issue that is hard to talk about even though it’s important. I spoke to an individual who has fallen victim to sexual harassment here at SMCC, and she used words like degrading, disgusting, and just wrong. Any person should fear becoming a sexual object, and be subjected to degrading names and actions. SMCC voices that sexual harassment is wrong, but it’s hard for people to speak on the matter without feeling embarrassed and exposed.
What to do after a Sexual Assault
It is common for survivors of sexual assault to be unsure of how to proceed after an assault. It is an extremely personal violation, so even people who believe in reporting the crime to the police may be unsure of how to proceed. The aim of the following information is to demystify the reporting process, and identify available support; the information is not intended to pass any judgment, or to suggest the “right thing to do.” It is important to understand that even if you aren’t sure if you would like to have the police involved you can still get medical care, support from a sexual assault advocate, and support from a therapist without making a police report; evidence can be collected without filing a police report.
Maine Medical Center staffs their emergency department with S.A.N.E. (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) certified nurses. These nurses are trained to be both extremely sensitive and supportive, and they have also been trained in forensic evidence collection. When reporting to the emergency department at MMC, the patient is immediately brought back to a private room. The emergency department also offers to contact the Sexual Assault Response Team. The S.A.R.T. is a team of professionals who act an as advocate, and their aim is to improve the criminal justice system’s response to sexual assault. The S.A.R.T. is on-call 24/7, so there is always an advocate available to help. The first part of the exam involves reporting what happened. The nurse will ask when the assault happened, who the assailant was (if you know), and how many assailants there were, what physically happened, where it happened on your body, and with what, and finally what the patient has done since the assault. After talking about what happened, the nurse must do a physical exam. The nurse also needs to take pictures of any visible marks on the skin, and collect D.N.A. evidence. The procedure is the same for both male and female victims. The emergency department will also provide medicine to prevent S.T.D.s, pregnancy, and HIV if indicated, as well as check your blood and urine. All of these services are paid for by the Victim’s Resource Fund, and are not charged to the patient.
If you have any questions, or would like more information please contact the Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine (SARSSM) at sarsonline.org. If you are a current or past victim of sexual assault, and you need support please call SARSSM’s 24 hr. Crisis & Support Line at 1.800.313.9900
Why Don’t You Just Leave?
I am not a fan of Domestic Violence Month. I don’t like to package important topics in tidy boxes that only draw attention 1/12 of the year. The pragmatist in me understands the need to do this. The survivor remembers the other 11/12 of the year and resents the feeling that after this month, we can check the box on this topic and move on.
I was 12 when I met the man who would be my step-father. I disliked him instantly. In the moment I first laid eyes on him I understood viscerally the hard lessons I would later learn. I knew that there was something wrong with him. He was deeply unhappy. There was an anger simmering quietly beneath the surface. On an instinctual level I knew that he didn’t like me, that he saw my presence has a nuisance or an obstacle, maybe both. I didn’t know until years later, after time passed quietly and I developed more insight, that I was the thing that stood between him and the control over my mother he so desperately needed to draw his attention outward and avoid focusing on the parts of himself that he felt were inadequate.
Things were fine at first, of course. Everyone loved him. He spent time with my brother and me. He was helpful to our neighbors. He joked. But slowly, almost imperceptibly, things changed. He began to restrict where we went and which friends we could have. He made irrational accusations. My brother and I were assigned unnecessary chores with impossible standards or deadlines. Punishments were not about correcting poor behavior but about labeling my deficiencies and repeating them loudly an inch from my face. He was big, red-faced, hairy and sweaty, and he shook when he yelled like he was about to lose control. He never laid a hand on me, but I endured his relentless barrages in fear that he would.
Eventually, I was isolated in a new town and a new school. I had no money, no access to computer or phone. I was not allowed to learn to drive or go anywhere but school or to visit my father, the latter usually preceded by an extended lecture regarding my dad’s infinite character flaws or stony, angry silence that left me dreading what would happen when I returned. I learned to take up the least space possible. I tried desperately to go unnoticed when I should and be present when I should, but I could never do the right thing at the right time. I was a ghost. I learned to fear heavy footsteps and dread hushed voices. I learned to distinguish the nuances of voice and body language that lead to explosions, to differentiate between shades of frustration and anger in a hopeless attempt to predict what might happen next. I contemplated suicide. I couldn’t ask for help specifically. I couldn’t have wrapped my head around what a different reality might look like because I never had the peace to truly consider any possible alternatives. It was as if I spent years holding my breath.
I held on to the fact that I knew he was wrong, that how we lived was wrong, and I told people: guidance counselors and teachers and adult family friends. Nobody wanted to get involved, so nobody helped. In my head I used to call them the caring but uninvolved. I always wondered why nobody seemed to realize that caring without getting involved was the same as not caring at all. To me, the result was the same.
One day I made him angry for the last time. We cowered through a protracted tirade in which I was sure he would finally snap, but instead of lashing out physically, he issued an ultimatum. He forced my mother to choose between us. My mother did the only thing that could restore our tenuous counterfeit peace; she chose him. In one decision, she became the blade that both wounded me and set me free. It is what I would have done.
That was a Friday in April of my junior year. I guiltily left my younger brother behind to move in with my dad and start at my third high school the following Monday. I know now that a decision that appeared effortless took everything my mother had, that she immediately began the process of separating their finances and making the necessary plans so that she could leave him, but I only saw her once, in his presence of course, until I graduated from high school over a year later. I learned afterwards that without me as a target, his rages escalated to physical violence and that finally getting out required the help of family and friends who thankfully acted when my mother sought their help.
Intellectually, I knew the hateful things he had screamed at me for all those years were untrue, but I felt broken afterwards, numb. I was different. My reactions to normal things were exaggerated. I spent so much energy surviving that when the chaos was over, it was hard for me to learn how to live life and not just get through it. I was still holding my breath. I struggled to remember what my life was like before. This was the state in which I arrived at college to begin my freshman year.
I Don’t Remember Before
By: Tiffanie Bentley
I don’t remember before.
I remember yelling,
thinking I would go insane.
Will I remember now, tomorrow?
My life is spread before me
like a road with no horizon
with no obstacles and no end.
I’ve won the struggle that got me here.
What does it mean?
What does it mean
that my reality has disappeared,
and there exists now a mere shadow
of a self that used to be,
the self that forced me to go on,
the self that made me live?
Can I exist without
the reality I made my own?
Can I make a new reality
when I can’t recall the time before?
I don’t remember before.
People often ask if I hate him. I don’t hate him. I won’t say I never did. At sixteen, sitting alone on the kitchen floor in the dark with the pills I had gathered weighing my fear of the consequences to me of being unsuccessful and my fear of the consequences to my brother of my death, I certainly wished him dead. As an adult, I pity him because he was the one who was broken; maybe he still is. In truth, I have succeeded in all the ways I told him I would in those few courageous moments before I understood the futility of fighting back. Because I have, I have made what he did to me an insignificant piece of a very full life.
As Domestic Violence Month begins, I ask that we reframe the way we approach the victims of abuse. I cringe when I hear someone ask, “Why don’t you just leave?” From the outside, walking away looks like a simple solution. But, it isn’t that easy, and when we ask this question in particular, we pass a judgment that isn’t our place to make. We question a victim’s ability to make a decision or to take action in the same way that their abuser has over and over again. We make them ask themselves, again, if their abuser was right. We set them back.
Instead, we should tell them often what they mean to us and how valuable they are to have in our lives. We should be there to help with whatever they need. We should keep including them in our plans, even though they almost always say no. That kind of support is what can help them see what a better life could be like, as the consistency of a positive message slips into the fragments of peace available in a chaotic life. We should not choose to remain uninvolved. There’s a moral judgment there, that staying in an abusive relationship is somehow a choice. Believe me when I tell you, it is not.
Beginning this month and extending throughout the year, you’ll see a variety of opportunities posted on the MySMCC student life calendar to learn about this important topic: from how you can seek help to how you can help others. We begin with our 1/12 effort because when the issue has the spotlight, we can make a bigger impact with our limited resources. It’s a start. It’s more important to me that everyone in our community knows that help is also available in the remaining 11/12 of the year, which is why we won’t confine these efforts to one month. I won’t make promises. Making changes isn’t easy, but we can help you take the first step. We care, and we can be involved if you want us to be. For more information, contact one of the offices or agencies below.
Office of Student Life
125 Spring Point Hall
Office of Safety and Security
Office of Counseling
Third Floor, Howe Hall
South Portland Police Department
Non-Emergency Line: 207-874-8575
Brunswick Police Department
Non-Emergency Line: 207-725-5521
Family Crisis Services
Maine State Crisis Hotline*
1-888-568-1112 (Maine relay 711)
*To connect to your closest crisis center
Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line
1-800-871-7741; TTY 1-888-458-5599
Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine
1-800-313-9900 (South Portland Campus Students)
Sexual Assault Response Services of Midcoast Maine
1-800-822-5999 (Midcoast Campus Students)
Statewide Domestic Violence Helpline
Maine Suicide Prevention
Community Resources & Support
211 or 1-877-463-6207
A complete list of resources is available at mccs.me.edu/make-your-move.