“I broke down after a night class because something my professor talked about triggered the memory. I started hyperventilating and crying when I got into my partner’s car so I had to tell him,” said M., a 22-year-old Chapman University alumna. “He was the first person I told and he didn’t know how to handle that information. He thought I was crazy and I think he still does.”
M. had never spoken about the sexual assault she experienced as a child. She was just six years old when a close friend of her mother’s raped her.
“I never reported it or told my mom because I didn’t want to get my attacker in trouble,” M. said. “It seems ridiculous, but that was my reasoning when it happened, from a child’s perspective.”
Like M., many young people’s first sexual experience is not consensual. An explosive study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in September of 2019 found that one in 16 women experienced forced sexual initiation. That means that 3.3 million American women’s first sexual experience was forced.
The study interviewed 13,310 American women from the ages of 18 to 44.
In a National Public Radio (NPR) article, Dr. Laura Hawks, the main author of the study, believes the actual number is much higher and says that, “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
We conducted a study that asked both undergraduate and graduate students at Chapman if their first sexual experience was consensual. Although our survey is significantly smaller than JAMA’s, our findings were just as shocking.
Out of 57 people who answered the questions, 12 reported their first sexual experience was not consensual. That means 21% of those interviewed were sexually assaulted the first time they had sex.
For other Chapman students, they experienced sexual assault once they came to the university.
A., a 20 year-old junior, says she was sexually assaulted at a Chapman lacrosse party when she was a freshman. “The guy fully raped me while I was blacked out and wasn’t moving for the majority of it,” A. said. “It took me a few days afterwards to gain back my memories and realize what exactly had happened.”
A. says it negatively affected her freshman year experience as well as her classes and grades
“I believed that I got raped because I was drunk and that it was my fault,” A. said.
Dean DeAnn Yocum Gaffney, Chapman’s lead Title IX coordinator, says that no matter where an assault occurs, that experience can have a dramatic effect on a student’s performance.
As the lead Title IX coordinator, Gaffney enforces the 1972 federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment or sexual violence. She says that in the previous year, there were a total of 99 Title IX cases at Chapman. These cases range from sexual harassment to assault that happen on campus or on a property controlled by the university or include a Chapman student.
Gaffney says she believes that although there were 99 cases last year, that number is not representative of the total incidents.
“There are so many assaults and cases of harassment or battery that go unreported,” Gaffney said. “I think our statistics are representative of a small portion of the incidents that actually happen.”
Like M., S., a 19 year-old sophomore, says she also did not report her sexual assault because she did not want to get her attacker in trouble.
S. started a relationship with a 26-year-old man when she was 16 years old and says she was forced to perform sexual acts against her will.
“He made me do so many things I didn’t want to do, but he was 10 years older than me and he would convince me it was ok,” S. said.
S says she had never had a sexual experience before meeting her attacker and he manipulated her in order to receive sexual favors.
“He was my first for everything, and I absolutely hate that,” S. said.
A year into the relationship, her attacker became violent and verbally abusive. He would choke S. until she “would almost black out”, sent nude photos to her, and would harass her via texting.
“I never told my parents or the police because I was so scared of getting in trouble. I felt like I would be vilified and disciplined hardcore,” S. said. “I think I was trying to protect my attacker, which is bullshit, but that’s how I felt at the time.”
Situations like S.’s are common, in fact, according to the 2019 Association of American Universities’ (AAU) annual report on campus climate on sexual misconduct, 5.2% of women do not report because they do not want their attacker to get in trouble. Twenty percent believed they could “handle the situation themselves,” 16.8% did not believe the assault to be serious enough to warrant reporting, and 15.9% were too embarrassed, ashamed, or scared to report.
Gaffney agrees with AAU’s findings and says Chapman closely mirrors these results. According to the latest Campus Climate Survey, 82% of Chapman students who did not report their assault “didn’t think it was serious enough to report.”
Gaffney encourages students to report incidents of sexual violence despite the difficulty of the decision.
“Reporting is a big part of changing sexual violence culture,” said Gaffney. “But I will fully support whatever choice a student decides is best for them.”