Student shares sexual assault story

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Karen sat on her bed still trying to process what had happened to her. It had been just two hours since Marcus had left her dorm room.

In the meantime, she’d talked to the police, left two messages for her mom and confided in a friend.

The 19-year-old sophomore reached for her phone and messaged Marcus.

I can get you arrested for what you did tonight.

Keep me out of your drama filled life. I didn’t do anything.

You don’t think you did anything wrong? I was just glad you didn’t rape me.

Karen, a Pacific University sophomore whose name has been changed, claims she was sexually assaulted by a 37-year-old man she met on Tinder, an online dating app, the evening of Feb 13.

Earlier in the day, Karen sent out a few texts to men she had met on Tinder, telling them she was no longer interested in having casual sex. Among those men was Marcus, whose name has also been changed, a 37-year-old from McMinnville she had previously met once for sex and had plans to see later that night. His response was less than understanding.

No. That is not going to happen. We are still going to have sex.

After several text exchanges, Marcus agreed to Karen’s terms and offered to come to her dorm room to watch a movie and cuddle.

Karen, like many others in her position did not see the signs of the threat.

“I was totally down for that.  Who wouldn’t want to cuddle with a guy and watch a movie,” Karen said. “I was very clear in what I wanted to happen and he agreed to it.”

Fast forward to four hours later: Marcus enters Karen’s room and immediately begins kissing her neck.

“I told you, it’s not going to happen.”

“Well, the night is still young.”

The movie started to play and Karen and Marcus settled on her bed.

Karen said she remembered Marcus immediately trying to push his hand down her pants and her moving it aside repeatedly. She says after several failed attempts, Marcus moved to groping at her thighs and breasts.

“I just kept silently resisting,” she said. “I couldn’t say anything, I was scared.”

Karen recounts Marcuse’s methodical patience and persistence, responding to her resistance but then creeping his hand back up her thigh and groping her.

Groping took a dangerous turn when Marcus flipped Karen over, gripped her at her sides and violently pulled her pants to her knees and began performing oral sex to her as she struggled beneath him.

“He definitely knew what he was doing,” Karen says. “He was playing the game and seeing how far he could go.”

After further struggle, she says Marcus sat up and glared down at Karen.

Karen reiterated that she was not going to have sex with him.

“He was pissed,” she says.

Marcus immediately sat up, put his shoes on on and left.

It wasn’t until she was talking to a friend about her experience later that night that she began to comes to terms with having been assaulted.

“My friend told me it was assault and that I needed to call the cops,” Karen said. “All I could think about was that there’s no way. I felt this strong urge to protect him, I still can’t understand it.”

Reluctantly, she called the Forest Grove police anonymously and explained what had happened to her.

“Yes, what happened to you is sexual assault. You need to report it.”

What happened to you is sexual assault.

Shocked and reeling, Karen told the officer that she did not want to get Marcus in trouble. After talking for a few minutes, she asked if she could call her mom before giving her name and filing a report.

Two calls to voicemail later, Karen realized she would have to make a decision on her own.

“Of course I was terrified, I didn’t want to have to go through reporting it,” Karen said. “But what I wanted didn’t matter at that point. I had to report it to help other girls who could fall victim to him. It wasn’t even a question.”

Karen reported the assault Feb. 14, one day after it took place. The  Forest Grove Police Department sent the case to the District Attorney’s office and is waiting for the disposition on whether there is enough evidence to continue to a Grand Jury and indict Marcus.

When Karen called the Forest Grove Police Department, she became part of a staggering statistic. Nearly 4,000 students reported being sexually assaulted on U.S. college campuses in 2012, the last year for which complete numbers are available.

Since 2008, Pacific has averaged two “forcible sex offense” reports per year. And these are only the reported cases.

According to the data collected by the nationally mandated Jeanne Clery Act, forcible sex offenses took a huge spike up to 18 in 2012.

Lindsey Blem, Interim Director of Residence Life and Student Conduct, said Pacific is currently unaware of the reason behind the reported spike but is currently investigating it, suspecting there were errors in the reporting that year.

Pacific University defines sexual misconduct as rape, sexual assault, or forced or unwanted sexual contact of any kind, or threat of such contact.

It is considered unwanted or without consent if consent is not given either verbally or physically.

“We know the vast majority of sexual assaults go unreported,”campus wellness coordinator Laura Siltanen said.

When a student is sexually assaulted either on or off campus, they have several options of how they can proceed.

Most students choose to seek help through campus wellness, the counseling center, a trusted peer or adviser or on an online forum.

University Vice President Mark Ankeny urged students to take advantage of University resources but to be aware of the risks of disclosure that come with each option.

Most resources on campus, including faculty, staff and some students, are required by law to report information they hear about sexual assault, even if it is in confidence. Siltanen and the counselors are the only resources students can go to with complete confidence and not be required to move forward with a report.

But Karen, who lives just 150 yards from the campus wellness office, said she had never heard of Siltanen or campus wellness even though she was regularly seeing and confiding in a Pacific University counselor.

Karen, whose story is not uncommon among sexual assault survivors, was unaware that she had been assaulted until both her  friend and the police officer repeatedly assured her that she was.

“I was in complete denial, one-hundred percent,” she said.

The Pacific Index was unable to contact Marcus for this story, but in a text message exchange with Karen after the assault, he insisted that because she once consented to sex, she didn’t have the right to change her mind.

Siltanen said that while students and many people in society may see sexual assault and misconduct as a gray area, the school policy does not.

Karen said she was too afraid to verbally protest during the assault, although she physically struggled with Marcus. University policy and Oregon state law states, however, that clear body language and previous non-consent of the victim is enough to justify sexual assault.

Karen had not been drinking but alcohol is a significant aspect of sexual assault on college campuses. The sexual misconduct policy states: if inflicted on a person who is unconscious or intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, the incident qualifies as sexual assault, meaning even if a party verbally or physically consents to sexual conduct while they are intoxicated, it does not legally qualify as consent.

Siltanen explained that if both parties are intoxicated, the responsibility falls on the instigating party and that instigation is broken up based on each individual act, meaning it is possible to consent to kissing or other sexual acts but not intercourse and the acts will be judged in the student conduct system on that basis.

“[Drinking] is one of those areas that can be really tricky so it’s really best if there is drinking involved to stear clear of [sexual acts],” she said.

Forest Grove Police Captain Mike Herb said the process of moving a sexual assault report through the system toward a possible indictment is complicated. Herb said in complex cases, the investigation and review can take several months to a year.

During that time, the victim would be interviewed by an initial patrol officer and a detective. The detective would collect all the evidence and witness testimony available and finally, the suspect would be located and interviewed.

The case would then be forwarded to the DA, who decides whether to drop the charges or convene a grand jury to consider an indictment of the suspect.

Herb said the disposition from the DA alone can take a matter of weeks.

Karen’s case is straightforward and has evidence.

Herb expects a report back from the DA anytime.

“Our DA for Washington County is generally really good,” Herb said. “There have only been a handful of cases in my career that have come back and surprised me.”

Going to the police and seeking help in the community comes with its share of misconceptions.

Herb said few students or community members are aware they can get an “unreported sexual assault kit,” mandated by the Violence Against Women Act of 2005.

The act allows victims to receive a medical forensic exam without having to report the crime to law enforcement. These sexual assault kits, also known as “Jane/John Doe” kits afford victims access to medical care and allow important evidence to be collected, without forcing the victim to immediately decide whether to report the assault or even provide a name to the police to law enforcement.

The importance of communicating the availability of unreported sexual assault kits is part of a recently established Memorandum of Understanding between the university and the Forest Grove Police Department aimed at ensuring that students felt comfortable talking to police about incidents on campus.

“We want to make sure we are protecting the students and avoiding prioritizing the image of the college,” Herb said. “The college wants the same thing.”

Part of that understanding is the police department’s hope that the university will begin informing students about the right to report assaults anonymously and the right to a sexual assault kit.

Siltanen said Campus Wellness does a lot of awareness and education campaigns on campus with orientation, RA trainings, organizational trainings and programs directed to the larger student body. A current emphasis is on creating a campus culture in which “active bystanders” feel empowered — and obligated — to curb unsafe sexual behavior.

“We are trying to get information out through professional and peer offices but what we really need is community buy-in,” Siltanen said.

After being made aware of Siltanen’s role in the campus community, Karen said she reached out to her and is now being walked through the process of the legal proceedings with someone in her corner.  (Siltanen said she is unable to comment on or confirm that she has any conversations or interactions with Karen or any other student.)

Blem, Interim Director of Residence Life and Student Conduct, said Pacific is currently working on amending its sexual misconduct policy to make it more detailed and eliminate vague areas. The revised policy is currently being reviewed by the University Council and may go into effect by fall 2015.

Stories like Karen’s are all too common for now but if the attention sexual assault has been receiving in the media continues, Siltanen is hopeful that will not always be the case. Siltanen said while it is encouraging to see national attention on sexual assault, people are getting the education late in the game. She said the conversations need to start happening in high school and prior.

“I’m hopeful that someday we will be at zero sexual assaults and I think we’ve made some great progress,” Siltanen said. “But obviously we have a lot more work to do.”


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