A movement’s ripples hit Kent
Words by Taylor Robinson | Photos by Colleen Cummins
After being attacked from behind with rope, dragged onto a bed and tied down, Melanie Angell says she was raped while attending Bowling Green State University. At 18 years old, she says, it was her second sexual assault.
As shocking as it may sound, an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Since 1998, more than 17,700,000 women have reported a sexual assault, according to MeTooMovement.org.
Even in the heart of Ohio, the statistics show an increase of reported rapes. Rape reports at Kent State tripled from 2016. There were 18 sexual assault crimes reported on campus property and five on non-campus property in 2016, an increase from six in 2015 and 2014, according to the Kent Campus Annual Security Report.
Following her attack, Angell says she went from a 4.0 student to earning nearly a 1.5 GPA. She says she felt depressed and worthless and took a year off. After deciding to go back to school, she decided to attend Kent State and is majoring in middle childhood education. Now, two years later, she is a junior and a member of Phi Sigma Pi, an honors fraternity, a sister of Chi Omega sorority and is working on regaining trust and establishing friendships.
“I hope people take away that they can’t trust everyone they meet,” Angell says. “It’s good to have some trust, but always have your guard up. It could be someone close to you. It’s not always a stranger.”
According to RAINN, seven out of 10 rapes are committed by someone a victim knows. Forty-five percent are committed by an acquaintance.
Natalie Dang, a sophomore studying biology at The University of Akron and a sexual assault survivor, says it is important people understand sexual assault can happen in a multitude of ways — it’s not just rape.
“Every situation is different and equally terrible,” Dang says.
College-aged women, ages 18 to 24, are three times more at risk for sexual assault, and 23.1 percent of undergraduate student females experience rape or sexual assault, according to RAINN. Is change on the horizon?
The phrase “me too” is used to help survivors let go of any shame they may feel and empower them, especially in minority communities, says Tarana Burke in an interview with The Nation. Burke is an American civil rights activist known for creating the #MeToo movement.
Angell says the #MeToo movement is empowering and gives those who have or haven’t been through assault beneficial knowledge to prepare them if anything ever happens to them.
Carrie George, a senior studying journalism and a sexual assault survivor, says she feels the #MeToo movement is empowering and helping people take their power back.
“At first, I wasn’t willing to participate and put my name out there with the movement,” George says. “But the more I saw people come forward, the more I felt I wasn’t alone and I could put my name and voice out there.”
The now-viral movement has motivated survivors to step forward with their stories and their experiences.
“For years, women’s voices have been silenced not only by men, but by society,” Dang says. “They try to silence you and make you feel guilty.”
George says people need to understand the movement isn’t a matter of getting attention — it’s a matter of survivors finding their voice.
“There [are] some misconceptions that people want pity or attention,” George says. “Nobody is doing that. Nobody wants people to know. It’s very vulnerable to come forward with this.”
Jordin Manning, a sophomore majoring in psychology, a sexual assault survivor and an activist who participates in the Kent State organization Students Against Sexual Assault’s (SASA) rallies and helps to update and create policies with them, says the movement, though powerful, has its pitfalls.
“I’m glad the #MeToo movement is happening,” Manning says. “However, I see hypocrisy when an actress goes and stars in a movie with Woody Allen and use excuses like they don’t have a choice.”
Dang says she thinks some people are scared to be a part of the movement because they don’t want people to know they’ve been assaulted.
“Don’t compare your experience to others,” George says. “If it affects you in any way, you have the right to feel that. Everyone heals and reacts to it differently.”
According to RAINN, 994 perpetrators out of every 1,000 rapes will walk free. Only about 310 of those crimes are reported to police.
“There is a lack of a justice system, and even if someone reports it, they still have to live with what happened to them,” Manning says. “Reporting is scary, and even getting a rape kit doesn’t really show a sexual assault happened.”
Jennifer O’Connell, the director of Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services (SRVSS) at Kent State, believes the #MeToo movement has launched a trend of believing survivors and has helped survivors want to speak up and seek help, even if they aren’t officially reporting the incident.
“#MeToo is helping survivors see they are not the only one,” O’Connell says. “It is hard to say if reports will go up, but it is helping bystanders see this is a bigger issue and these aren’t isolated incidents.”
O’Connell estimates about 20 percent of students will file an actual report, but about 40 to 50 percent will seek support. SRVSS can walk survivors through filing a report, if they wish to do so, or point them in the direction of Student Legal Services.
SRVSS, located in the Williamson House, is open to anyone in the Kent State community and can provide support and resources such as crisis intervention, adjudication support, academic intervention and awareness.
O’Connell explains reporting sexual assault has a lot of barriers and may not be the best option for a survivor. However, she encourages survivors to speak to someone and seek support.
SRVSS ofers crisis support at any point after assault, from immediately after to years following the incident. They provide privacy and allow students to come in and remain anonymous if they wish. SRVSS can help students with academic accommodation, finding safe housing and has hot lines and counseling available for them.
Dang says survivors should know there are always people there to support them, and it is very important for women and survivors to stick together and support one another.
Coming to Kent State for a fresh start after her attack at Bowling Green, Angell says she has finally been able to open up about her experiences and is taking her life back.
“I personally wasn’t able to talk about it at all, but I just got over that,” Angell says. “I wanted to share my story, just to give people a heads up that it can happen. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, it won’t happen to me,’ but it does. It’s good to know there’s someone who cares about your story.”