Breaking the Silence: Reporting instances of sexual assault helps survivors and the community

By Melanie Fenstermaker

*Editor’s Note: The survivors’ names have been changed to protect their identities.

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“Just tell everyone you fell down the stairs.” That’s what Jenny Hill’s* boyfriend told her after he raped and beat her so relentlessly that he broke two of her ribs. He threatened that if she ever told anyone, he would kill her. Hill used the lie in the emergency room, but the truth hung in the back of her mind. “He was just kicking and kicking and he wouldn’t stop,” she said. “He told me, ‘The only way I’ll stop hitting you is if you have sex with me.’ He told me, ‘Your life is going to end.’”

That was the first time Hill’s boyfriend sexually assaulted her, but it wasn’t the last. Hill endured almost a year of brutal domestic abuse. She was ashamed and didn’t know where to get help. “I didn’t feel like there was anybody in my life at that time who could help me,” she said. It wasn’t until three years after her boyfriend broke up with her that Hill found the courage to report to the police. “In reality, [reporting is] something that I don’t think I really ever wanted to do. It’s exhausting and overwhelming, but at the same time to know that he’s not out there and can’t do this to anybody else is a good feeling.”

Hill, a Utah State University freshman, is one of many Utah State students who have had to decide whether to seek help after being sexually assaulted. It’s important that survivors get help, whether it’s from family, friends or confidential counselors, said Jenny Erazo, the Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information (SAAVI) program coordinator at Utah State. But reporting an incident – which involves telling the police or the university – can help a survivor heal, helps pinpoint perpetrators and displays a more accurate picture of campus and community sexual crimes, she said.

Sexual assault is a historically underreported crime. A 2010 U.S. Department of Justice study reported 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, and a 2014 U.S. Department of Justice study found that at least 80 percent of those assaults go unreported. Although it’s difficult to calculate the exact numbers, Erazo said, Utah State seems to “run fairly close to the national averages.” Erazo said she counselled more than 23 students during the Fall 2015 se-
mester, and only four or five chose to report.

According to the Clery Report – a federally mandated document compiled annually by universities to track on-campus crime – only three instances of sexual assault were reported to the USU Police Department in 2014. The Clery Report only includes incidents that were reported on campus, not in fraternities or off-campus housing, so many students who reported were likely not included.

It’s unfortunate when students choose not to report, Erazo said, because reporting gives the university a more accurate picture of sexual crimes. The more survivors report instances of sexual assault, the more campus will focus on preventing it, said Stephanie Bagnell, director of the Center for Women and Gender.

Survivors who report don’t have to share specifics about the perpetrator or the assault. Even if survivors decide not to share specific information, the university can still benefit from knowing where incidents take place, said Stacy Sturgeon, Utah State’s Title IX coordinator. Sturgeon conducts confidential investigations of campus sexual assault cases. “If a person doesn’t want to reveal what’s been done, or what’s allegedly been done, we are limited, but we can see if there are things we can do to make campus safer,” she said. “If we know, for instance, that something happened in a dormitory, maybe we won’t know a name and we won’t know exactly what happened, but maybe we’ll do some training about sexual assault prevention.”

When survivors report instances of sexual assault, it also helps the police and university officials pinpoint perpetrators, Erazo said. Even if a survivor chooses not to press charges, she said, it’s good for survivors to report because it gets the perpetrator’s name on the record in case they commit future crimes. “Typically, perpetrators don’t just perpetrate one time,” Erazo said. “What reporting might do would get a per-
petrator on the radar. If that name has come up before, it gives university law enforcement more ability to do something to identify that person.”

Reporting isn’t right in every situation, Erazo said, and choosing whether to report is a survivor’s personal decision. “Obviously I would love to have everybody report,” she said, “but it really depends on the survivor and if that’s what’s best for them at that moment.” There are many reasonsa survivor might feel uncomfortable reporting. Some survivors are close friends or partners with their perpetrator, and they may not want to re-
port an incident for fear the perpetrator will go to jail. Some avoid reporting because they don’t feel emotionally ready to tell the story of their assault. Others fear the reaction they will receive from family, friends and neighbors.

Derek West*, a Utah State junior who was sexually assaulted while in college, said he chose not to report because he was embarrassed and wasn’t sure how his friends and family would react. West chose not to tell anyone – not even his family – exactly what happened. “I’m a guy and so it’s very, like, not even real for it to happen to a guy. The reality of the situation is very dehumanizing for me. It’s very embarrassing.” West also chose not to tell anyone because it would have created “a lot of heat, a lot of contention, a lot of hatred and fights” among his friends and family.

But West believes sexual assault survivors should report, mainly so perpetrators are identified. “It’s unfortunate that I feel this way and it’s unfortunate that a lot of people feel this way, but people definitely need to speak up. It hurts to share and open up and make these things be out there, but if they don’t they’ll put other people in danger.”

West noted he might sound hypocritical but said his perpetrator wasn’t “making a habit out of” hurting others. He said, “It was just a specific, unique, tailored situation. It was more of just a personal hatred.”

Although reporting can be challenging, it can give a survivor some control over the situation. Amanda Draper*, a Utah State sophomore, decided to tell the reporting officer at the hospital that her boyfriend had forcibly sodomized her. Reporting empowered her to prosecute. She wanted to see her boyfriend behind bars, even if it meant having to tell the story many times. “I knew he was going to hurt me again and probably somebody else as well,” she said. “It is very difficult to keep reliving the experience, but at the same time I knew that if I could just put myself back in that day that I could put this really bad guy away so he couldn’t hurt anybody else.”

 

Draper said reporting was also beneficial because her emotions toward her boyfriend were validated and she was able to begin healing. The reporting officer who met with her at the hospital wasn’t pushy or cold, she said, and he was able to confirm that she had been sexually assaulted. “Itmade me believe that I wasn’t just overreacting,” she said. “To be able to have someone look at you and say, ‘This really happened and it was not okay,’ that empowered me.” Draper said reporting the assault and going through the steps to prosecute was one of the hardest things she has ever done, but it’s a choice she doesn’t regret. “To be able to report and pursue that, I think, helpedgive me back a piece of what I lost that day.”

At Utah State, those who report can receive academic assistance. While Title IX officials have no power to change grades, Sturgeon said, they can inform a student’s professors about the situation. “If someone has missed a lot of class, we can facilitate conversations with faculty members,” she said. “We want to make sure they’re not getting so far behind that they’re not able to catch up.”

Sturgeon said help locations on campus will work to meet the specific needs of any student who seeks help. Even though it can be emotionally exhausting, reporting is worth it, Hill said, because it will make the community more aware of the issue and inspire other survivors to get help. “I know it’s such a scary situation, but the more people you tell, the better it’s going to get,” she said. “Don’t give up. Keep trying. You’re worth more than what you’re going through right now.”

** This issue’s cover art, which is also paired with “Breaking the Silence,” comes from a portion of a photo shoot about the emotional effects of sexual assault. USU freshman Avery Brannen and BYU freshman Abby Roush were inspired to do the photo shoot during their senior year of high school in Tigard, Oregon, after hearing that one in five college women fall victim to sexual assault.

Each element of the photo shoot has meaning, Brannen said. Bathing, she said, is personal, so placing the bathtub outside and giving the young woman the illusion of being naked emphasizes her vulnerability.She said the paint – the reds and blues – shows blood and bruises that accumulate when a woman is sexually assaulted. Brannen hopes the work will inspire change. “People are afraid of talking about sexual assault, the difference between assault and rape, and what is consent because it makes them feel uncomfortable,” she said. “But it’s something I want people to look at and I want people talking about because it is a problem and it’s happening. If you don’t talk about it, nothing’s going to change.” **

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Beneath the Surface: Diving into Cache Water

by Fallon Rowe

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Picture a giant mass of earth and water crashing down a hillside, destroying everything in its path. Most people imagine this happening in a mountain landscape, far from daily life. Sometimes, though, nature hits close to home. In July 2009, this scenario became a reality for a mother and her two children, who lost their lives and their home to a landslide below the Logan North Canal.

Over-irrigation and water-saturated soil have proven to be serious problems near Utah State University in the past. Tom Lachmar, geology professor and groundwater specialist at USU, explained that two separate but related landslides have occurred near campus in the last decade. The ground below campus is made of permeable sediments, and water will go “straight down” until it hits certain thicker layers that cause it to move laterally “until it finds a way to seep out on a slope,” he said.

Lachmar noted the first slide happened at the end of the irrigation season, and was a smaller movement of sediment that likely resulted from over-watering of the Quad area. This slide essentially dumped sediment and water into the canal. The second slide, however, brought tragedy.

A USU public abstract by Kathryn Davis Henderson explained that in July 2009, “a wet, steep hillside failed, leveling a home below and destroying an irrigation canal that ran along the hill. Three people were killed.” The saturated sediment and water went into the canal as with the first slide, but this time the canal broke. Lachmar said this tragic deadly slide was likely a result of a wet and rainy month of June that year, not a result of over-watering because it “happened too early in the season.”

USU is celebrating 2015 as the “Year of Water” to provide local water education and recognition of faculty expertise in water science. Numerous free public events will be held in effort to engage the community and raise awareness of water science accomplishments. The Year of Water also uses interdisciplinary experts to “guide federal, state, local and private agencies and land-owners in research-based management to balance the needs of agriculture and our rapidly urbanizing communities,” according to the Year of Water website.

Although Utah is generally considered a desert area, Cache Valley has abundant groundwater, and Lachmar said it is “the wettest place in the state of Utah.” The amount of water existing in its aquifer system could fill a swimming pool 15 miles wide, 10 miles long and 400 feet deep. Lachmar has conducted many studies on Cache Valley water. He has examined carbon-14 data, which looks at radioactive decay of isotopes in the sample, to determine that some local groundwater is from Lake Bonneville, a giant lake that covered the valley tens of thousands of years ago.

Since the time of Lake Bonneville, Cache Valley has had a complex history with both groundwater and surface water. Prior appropriation doctrine has dictated most of the water distribution in Logan, which Lachmar explained as, “First come, first served.” Older claims are more valuable because they get the highest priority, and water rights are “commodities” that can be purchased and sold.

When the first settlers came to the valley, all surface water rights were appropriated before groundwater claims and well drilling occurred, according to Lachmar. Now, the law treats groundwater and surface water as “highly interconnected” because of the interaction as natural systems rather than as separate entities. An example of this is the surface water canal interacting with the saturated water in the ground to cause the fatal landslide.

Lachmar explained that most precipitation falls on the highest edges of Cache Valley, and then the water flows toward the center of the valley where the Bear River and other water bodies are located. He said that the Bear River is a “gaining stream. As it flows through the valley, the discharge increases because of the groundwater flowing into the stream bed.”

Pollution doesn’t affect groundwater in Cache Valley since “we have thick, lake clay sediments between the ground surface and the aquifers,” Lachmar said. The placement of the landfill and wastewater treatment facility in the middle of the valley was fortunate because the upward direction of stream flow prevents pollution buildup. “We have remarkably high quality and abundant groundwater in this valley,” he said. “It is clean, amazingly clean.”

Water in Cache Valley encompasses more than streams and what exists underground. Kelly Kopp, a landscape water conservation and turfgrass scientist at USU, said snow acts as a reservoir in Utah since it influences droughts and water supply.

Unpredictable weather, including fluctuating snow levels each year, “makes it very hard to predict what we’re going to have in terms of future supply,” Kopp said. This affects farmers and irrigation every year, especially as Cache Valley’s population is growing. Along with agriculture, Kopp said, “the vast majority of per capita water use in the state (70 percent) goes for irrigating our ornamental landscapes.”

Ed Kosmicki of Utah Stories, a Utah news website, says Utah is the second driest state and “the second largest consumer of water per person in the nation (295 gallons per person per day), with about two-thirds of water in private homes being used on lawns and landscapes. Forty percent of that water is wasted, according to Utah State University. Leaks and over-watering account for most of the waste.”

The combination of periodic droughts, rising prices and growing population has convinced Kopp that conservation is extremely important, describing it as a “virtual reservoir.” Kopp encourages students to take action with conservation, and promotes the idea that “if we each save a little, we all save a lot.”

USU students and faculty can conserve water by taking simple steps to reduce usage. In an Environment Magazine article, Benjamin D. Inskeep and Shahzeen Z. Attari encourage upgrading to high-efficiency appliances, especially toilets, to make the biggest impact. Small efforts in daily life are also effective, including minimizing run time of faucets and showers, choosing shorter washing cycles for clothes and improving sprinkler system programming, the article states.

On a larger scale, new technologies, such as climate-based irrigation control, are continuing to improve efficiency and help conservation, Kopp said. This could affect USU students pursuing agricultural careers because technology and methods are progressing. Other issues, such as over-irrigation and pollution, are highly related as nutrients and excess water can leach through the soil or runoff into surface water bodies.

Looking to Cache Valley’s water roots, there is diverse history and science. According to the Year of Water website, USU has a “100+ year legacy of undergraduate and graduate programs that have trained the leading voices for water issues around the world.” The Year of Water will help the community transition toward a wise and successful future. After all, Kopp says “water is life.”