Program helps college student recover from sexual assault
More than a year after being sexually assaulted, a Beloit College student said the hardest part is behind her.
She is in the process of legal proceedings. She has gotten support from family and friends. She has been helped by the Sexual Assault Recovery Program, known as SARP.
“I've made significant progress,” she said.
The 21-year-old didn't want to be identified, but she shares her experience to create awareness about SARP at a critical time.
One in five women has been sexually assaulted while in college, according to the Campus Sexual Assault Study. The number comes from a 2007 survey of almost 5,500 undergraduate women at two large public universities.
“Especially college students need to be aware of their resources,” the woman said. “I know some survivors who need more help than they are getting.”
SARP workers help victims of sexual assault at any time. They support people at the emergency room or when reporting to law enforcement. They provide resources, counseling, referrals and safety planning.
“SARP will not influence the victim to report or not to report an assault,” the woman said. “They are willing to do what the survivor wants.”
The woman has volunteered for SARP, which has Rock County offices in Janesville and Beloit.
“After being assaulted, I understood the importance of getting immediate medical attention,” she said. “I also reported it to the police.”
The impact of the assault on her life has been dramatic.
“I no longer wanted to hang out with my friends or go to college,” she said. “I experienced a lot of hyper vigilance. It changed my perspective about how safe I am in public places and made me more fearful.”
The assault happened in Chicago after a music event.
“The hardest thing was blaming myself,” she said. “I had been drinking. I agreed to hang out with the men who assaulted me, but that is not the same thing as consenting. Just because you spend time with someone does not mean you are obligated to have sex with them.”
Bryn Golden of SARP said myths still surround rape.
“Many victims think they could have prevented it or are at fault because of what they were wearing or what they were doing,” Golden said. “Lots of times, blame is put on the victim.”
Golden is volunteer and outreach coordinator of SARP's Janesville office, which has been open for about a year.
“Having an office in Janesville makes our services more accessible to some people,” Golden said.
SARP serves clients in Rock, Green and Lafayette counties. Clients range in age from 16 to 70. Last year, SARP served 80 clients in Rock County. In 2012, it served more than 100. The program of Family Services of Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois also provided prevention, education and outreach material to more than 2,000 people last year.
FEW REPORT THEIR ATTACKS
Between 5 percent and 20 percent of sexual assault victims report their attacks, said Anna Grzelak, SARP's program director. One of the biggest reasons is victim blaming.
“They fear they will not be believed,” Grzelak said. “I worked with one victim who spoke up when she was assaulted as a child but was not believed. She remained quiet for 10 years before she spoke up again.”
She called SARP's work victim-centered.
“We do not tell people what to do, but we make sure they know their rights,” Grzelak said. “It's a never-ending battle to get the information out there.”
The program reaches out to specific populations, including male survivors, Spanish-speaking people and older people, who all face different barriers to receiving services.
Grzelak said survivors are not responsible for causing assaults.
“Only the offenders are to blame,” she said.
Victims of assault or people close to them are welcome at any time to call SARP's hotline or to get free and confidential counseling.
“It makes no difference when the assault happened,” Grzelak said.
Counseling focuses on giving people positive coping skills.
“Survivors may feel like they are in a fog,” Grzelak said. “We go at their pace and help them access other services, if they need them. A big part of healing for the victims is being re-empowered. They are devastated by what happened.
"They often just want to move forward.”