Changing a Culture of Assault

It was an unusually warm December night when one Texas Tech junior went out drinking with friends to celebrate the last day of classes. Later that night, she was sexually assaulted.

“I came home, I changed into a white t-shirt—granted, I think I am alone in my room,” she said. “And the next thing I know is, like, we are having sex. And I like, freaked out, and I am super drunk, I am nowhere near sober, but it’s like I woke up.”

She said that immediately following the assault, she became hysterical.

“I remember just going into my closet with my blanket and just crying,” she said.

The victims and perpetrators of sexual assault often remain nameless and silent. Sometimes, however, they speak through public records, even when their names are blacked out.

The Hub@TTU obtained such a case document from Tech through the Texas Public Information Act. The survivor was in a journalism class when another student was discussing the document.

She decided to come forward and identify herself. Her name is Ruby Grace.

Grace was assaulted on Dec. 4, 2013, by a man we will call Paul*. According to the document, he was suspended from the university from October 2014 to August 2015 after being found responsible for a nonconsensual sexual intercourse. Paul did not respond to a request for an interview from The Hub@TTU.

The university’s annual crime report, released today, lists nine forcible sex offenses on Tech’s Lubbock campus in 2014—up from seven reported in 2013 and five in 2012. Grace’s assault is not part of these numbers because the campus crime report does not include crimes that occurred on non-university property. “Forcible” sex offenses include those in which “the victim is incapable of giving consent,” according to the U.S. Department of Education Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting.

“It’s so cheap, so cowardly,” she said. “To get your own, you had to ruin me.”

The actual frequency of sexual assault is estimated to be much higher—one in four seniors will have experienced such an event by the end of his or her college career, according to a survey released by the Association of American Universities (AAU) on Sept. 21. The survey is getting national attention due to its large sample of about 150,000 students from 27 colleges and universities.

Victims are not always female, as illustrated by Tech’s most recently reported sexual assault, but women make up the majority. At institutions with enrollment between 26,000 and 40,000 students—the size category that encompasses Texas Tech—23.5 percent of female undergraduate and 5.2 percent of male undergraduate students report experiencing what the AAU survey calls “nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation.”

Previous estimates, such as one from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), were more conservative—35 rapes for every 1,000 women attending a college or university each academic year.

In the last year, two campaigns have sprung on Tech’s campus to change the culture of sexual assault—Not on My Campus and Define Your Line. Student Devin Teicher, founder of Not on My Campus at TTU, says the goal of the campaign is to prevent rape and sexual assault by getting people to talk about it. The organization uses social media and wristbands to spread the message.

“I just think that’s such a great way to make a change on your campus,” Teicher said.

Define Your Line is both similar and different. Rebecca Ortiz, faculty advisor of Define Your Line and assistant professor in Tech’s College of Media & Communication, says the campaign is unlike any other previous initiative because the focus is on sexual agency.

“It’s all about defining what is right for you,” Ortiz said.

 

A Chronology of Pain

Back in December 2013, Grace did not have a chance to define what was right for her. She said she met Paul through a co-worker who was the former president of his fraternity. When she went out drinking with some of the fraternity members, she felt she could trust Paul because he was a friend and had a long-term girlfriend.

Paul drove her and her roommate’s boyfriend to their house because they were too intoxicated. Grace recalls she and Paul helped her roommate’s boyfriend up the stairs.

Grace’s memory of the night is fragmented, but she knows she did not give Paul consent to have sex with her.

The assault left her feeling betrayed and wounded.

“It’s so cheap, so cowardly,” she said. “To get your own, you had to ruin me.”

Grace’s assault fits average statistics because the assault occurred off campus and she knew the perpetrator. According to the NSVRC report, nine out of 10 college women who are sexually assaulted or raped know their offender before the crime occurs. Statistics also show it is more common for sexual assault to happen off campus.

A brochure given out by the Texas Tech Student Resolution Center offers information and resources regarding sexual violence. Photo taken by Maddy McCarty.

The next day, Grace said, she felt she needed to talk to someone and walked to the Tech Student Counseling Center.

“At this point, I wasn’t saying I was raped or sexually assaulted,” she recalled. “It just felt wrong. I was so confused.”

The counselor told her what she had experienced was a sexual assault and advised her to go to the University Medical Center, she said.

“If you were incapacitated at the time and did not give verbal consent, felt coerced or pressured… then it is possible that you were assaulted,” advises a brochure available from the Texas Tech Division of Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs.

Grace is unsure of everything she drank that night, but she said after taking two shots at the bar, she felt drunker than she had ever been before. The next day she found text messages of jumbled letters she had sent to her roommate and had no recollection of sending them.

She says she did not assume she was drugged, but she described seeing her night in flashes. Side effects of Rohypnol, a common date rape drug, include drunk feeling, lack of memory and confusion.

Grace continued to see a Tech counselor once a week after the sexual assault. The spring of 2014 was what she described as her “dark semester.” She slowly began to come to terms with the assault.

“I had to change my room. I had to rearrange it,” she said. “I had to get new sheets. It just all kinda started to hit me really, really slowly. I wasn’t even angry; I was confused. I was depressed for a long time.”

“We like to say that the victim did something to provoke sexual violence against them, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” Erica Brooks-Hurst said.

The counselor told her she could press legal charges against the offender. Grace had completed a rape-kit exam, but the detective assigned to her case discouraged her from pursuing a criminal case because there was alcohol involved.

“She said it’s a lot of ‘he said, she said’ for a very serious charge,” Grace said.

The fraternity’s current president, who identifies as a friend of Paul’s and asked to remain anonymous, said he and other fraternity members had encouraged Paul to pursue Grace in the past because they thought she was interested in him.

“It’s just one of those things where I feel like if both individuals were intoxicated, they should both be held responsible—and not just the male,” Paul’s friend said.

The Big Picture

“Victim blaming” is one of the defining characteristics of rape culture, Erica Brooks-Hurst said.

Brooks-Hurst is a graduate student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies who teaches a class covering topics such as rape culture and sexual assault.

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A brochure given out by the Texas Tech Student Resolution Center offers information and resources regarding sexual violence and assault. Photo taken by Maddy McCarty.

“We like to say that the victim did something to provoke sexual violence against them, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” Brooks-Hurst said.

Students often do not realize that we live in a rape culture—partly because we do not admit rape is prevalent and pervasive, she added.

“I don’t think students understand the statistics that in college one in five women will be sexually assaulted,” Brooks-Hurst said.

Official numbers do not reflect this statistic because sex crimes are notoriously underreported. According to the NSVRC report, fewer than 5 percent of attempted or completed rapes against college women are reported to law enforcement.

A 2014 U.S. Department of Justice special report is slightly more optimistic, suggesting 20 percent of rapes and sexual assaults of 18- to 24-year-old students and 32 percent of similar incidents among non-student victims of the same age group are reported to police.

For this reason, it is difficult to know how many sex crimes occur in Lubbock each year. According to an FBI crime report, 88 rapes were reported in Lubbock in 2013. A Lubbock Police Department document obtained through the Texas Freedom of Information Act showed 145 police reports regarding sexual crimes in 2013.

The vast majority of 2013 reports to LPD came from across town: the Covenant Medical Center on 19th Street, the University Medical Center on Knoxville Avenue, Covenant Children’s Hospital, the Broadway Church of Christ, various apartment complexes, single-family homes and even hotels—such as America’s Best Inn and the Inn of the South Plains.

But a few reports were made from locations suggesting a high likelihood that the victim was a Tech student—such as the Alpha Phi sorority at 1 Greek Circle, ULoft Apartments and University Pointe. Two reports were also made from Oak Street Apartments, located near the campus of Lubbock Christian University.

Michael Henry, director of the Student Resolution Center, said the role of alcohol is the biggest problem in campus sexual assault cases. The NSVRC report states that women attending colleges with medium and high binge-drinking rates are 1.5 times more likely to be raped while intoxicated than women from colleges with low binge-drinking rates.

“Just like any civil rights movement, there’s going to be some debate, but it’s getting a lot better now,” Michael Henry said. “It’s not under the table anymore.

However, a spreadsheet analyzed by The Hub@TTU and including data from six Texas universities shows a negative .6 correlation between the number of sexual assaults and the number of campus alcohol arrests in 2012. In other words, the data analysis suggests that the more students are busted for using alcohol on a given campus, the fewer sexual assaults are reported.

Nicole Lasky, a doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati, who studies campus sexual assault, said this is indeed a little-known fact: fewer sexual assaults are reported when alcohol is involved.

“One other surprise I learned over the course of my research is that students are fearful of reporting crimes if they had been drinking before or during the victimization,” she said. “It makes sense that fewer crimes, including sexual assault, are reported in the context of drinking.”

Tech graduate student Brooks-Hurst said statistics regarding sexual assault are also low because victims face many barriers in reporting their experiences, including fearing the offender, reliving the trauma and self-blaming.

“Some people don’t want to go there emotionally,” she said.

Defining Rape Culture

Brooks-Hurst said a highly publicized September 2014 incident at a Phi Delta Theta fraternity party was an example of rape culture. A boat painted with the words “no means yes, yes means anal” at an unsanctioned “hurricane”-themed party made national headlines after a picture was posted on Total Frat Move, a Greek-life-associated news and entertainment website.

Total Frat Move posted an article in September calling Texas Tech “indisputably” the seventh “easiest college at which to get laid.”

This is not the first nor only time fraternity members have used this slogan. Tech Phi Delta Theta members wore T-shirts with the same words at a “white-trash”-themed party two years earlier, as this reporter personally observed.

“That is trivializing consent or acting like it’s not important,” Brooks-Hurst said.

The same slogan—”no means yes, yes means anal”—was chanted by members of Yale University’s Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity in October 2010. The incident garnered national headlines and criticism, leading to the fraternity’s suspension in May 2011.

The boat painted with "no means yes, yes means anal at the Phi Delta Theta party. Originally posted by user "Whitman" in a message board on oldrow.net.

The boat painted with “no means yes, yes means anal” at the Phi Delta Theta party. Originally posted by user “Whitman” in a message board on oldrow.net.

Harrison Wardwell, a senior economics major from Spring, Texas, said he did not know about the decoration prior to the Phi Delta Theta party but has disassociated himself from the fraternity since then.

“I wasn’t at the party, but everyone is guilty by association,” Wardwell said. “Now I don’t want to list Phi Delt on my resume in case my future employers heard about it.”’

Many prominent Tech alumni have identified as Phi Delta Theta members, including Chancellor Robert Duncan, musician Josh AbbottTV show host Colby Donaldson, and actor George Eads.

Wardwell said he is disappointed mostly because he became associated with the chapter by transferring to Tech as a junior. He originally joined Phi Delta Theta at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi.

Wardwell added he thought national media coverage, such as one Huffington Post article, was too extensive for the incident.

A group of students protested in response to the sign by hanging bed sheets spray-painted with “no means no” in various locations on campus.

“We denounce these acts inciting rape and propping up rape culture at our university,” flyers left at the scene stated.

A flier taped to a wall on campus next to a bed sheet spray painted with "no means no." Photo posted on Twitter by user @the_bone_lady.

A flier taped to a wall on campus next to a bed sheet spray painted with “no means no.” Photo posted on Twitter by user @the_bone_lady.

Alexandra Elliot, a senior psychology major from Houston and former Alpha Chi Omega sorority member, said the Fall 2014 semester was an embarrassing time to be a part of Tech Greek life. She was not only upset by Phi Delta Theta’s sign but also because The Texas Tech Police Department removed protestors’  “no means no” signs placed on the university’s seal and an academic building within 30 minutes.

“No one came to take down the inappropriate and dehumanizing signs at the fraternity event, but how dare women respond by protesting rape culture?” Elliot said.

Grace recalls the speedy removal of the signs. “It made me feel hopeless,” she said.

University of Cincinnati doctoral student Lasky said allowing students to speak out against sexual assault should be a part of college education.

“Stifling their freedom of speech indirectly maintains rape culture by directly maintaining the silence surrounding this ‘disquieting secret,’” she added.

Henry, Tech’s lead Title IX investigator, said the university did not take an official stance, but the protest showed the community did not condone the type of behavior displayed at the fraternity party.

“That is the correct view,” Henry said. “No does mean no.”

Not all students and faculty promote a rape culture on campus, Henry said, but some do. The existence of Title IX, a 1972 law requiring equity for males and females in every educational program receiving federal funding, proves there is a problem with gender equity on college campuses, he added.

“Just like any civil rights movement, there’s going to be some debate, but it’s getting a lot better now,” Henry said. “It’s not under the table anymore.”

Henry, who was the investigator in Grace’s case, said a typical Title IX investigation includes conducting interviews, gathering statements, and examining phone records and social media. The evidence is presented to a specially trained group of Tech staff members who determine responsibility and consequences.

“We want to make sure we are not allowing a continually harassing environment,” Henry said. “It’s a victim-centric response with a due-process-centered approach.”

Henry’s investigation approach felt supportive to Grace.

“He made it as easy as possible for me, which was great,” Grace said.

Breaking the Silence

Flyers at the scene of the protest against the “yes means no, no means anal” incident at Tech also listed demands, including “that the student body president—a member of Phi Delta Theta [who] was present at the party endorsing rape promotion—be removed from office.”

A protest was staged in response to the language used at the fraternity party. Photo posted to Twitter by user @the_bone_lady.

A protest was staged in response to the language used at the fraternity party. Photo posted to Twitter by user @the_bone_lady.

The targeted person was Hayden Hatch, former Tech Student Government Association president and Phi Delta Theta member. Hatch said he considered stepping down from office after the protest but decided against it.

“I felt that I could do more from my position to address the problems that my fraternity incident brought to light than I could if I were to step down,” Hatch said.

The language on the boat reflected a lack of understanding and sensitivity toward the topic of rape rather than encouragement or support for rape, he continued.

Lasky, the University of Cincinnati doctoral student, said the fraternity sign indeed exemplified rape culture, but she agreed it was likely not intended to be harmful. Making sexual assault a valid topic of discussion on college campuses can help dispel misinformation surrounding the topic, she added.

The same words were written on a T-shirt at a Phi Delta Theta "white trash" themed party two years earlier. Photo taken by Maddy McCarty.

The same words were written on a T-shirt at a Phi Delta Theta “white trash” themed party two years earlier. Photo taken by Maddy McCarty.

“The stereotype of ‘real rape,’ a stranger in the alley and an unintoxicated victim who reacts with utmost force, is how many individuals define sexual assault,” Lasky said. “Yet, most people do not realize that this is the least common form of sexual assault.”

Five rape survivor stories that clearly break the stereotype are behind the documentary “Good Girls Don’t Tell,” produced by Lindsey Blumell and Jennifer Huemmer, doctoral students at the Texas Tech College of Media & Communication, and directed by Selasi Kudowor. The film will be screened as part of the Flatland Film Festival in Lubbock from Oct. 15 to 17.

Lasky said when victims’ experiences do not match with the stereotypical definition of rape, it can be hard for them to acknowledge their experience as sexual assault and harder to believe others will validate their experience as such.

Audra Coffman, a senior journalism major from Cleburne, Texas, is one such example. She said she wished she could have participated in the protest against the offensive slogan displayed by Phi Delta Theta because she also experienced sexual assault in her past.

It took her more than a year to tell her best friend about her experience, she said, and her friend told her she had been in a similar incident with some of the same people.

Coffman said she felt extremely depressed for years because she had not fully processed the trauma. She even contemplated suicide at one point.

“I had a gun in my hand, and I was like, ‘Okay I’m going to shoot myself in the head,’” Coffman said. “I was pregnant. I didn’t know why I was so depressed. It was so far back in my head, I thought I was just crazy.”

It is unknown whether this ice sculpture was actually present at a Phi Delta Theta party. Photo obtained through a former member's Instagram account.

This ice sculpture is said to have been present at a Phi Delta Theta party in 2013. The Hub@TTU was unable to independently verify that this event occurred. The photo was obtained from a former member’s Instagram account.

It took her more than 10 years and counseling to come to terms with what had happened. Coffman now wants to tell her story to encourage other survivors to report their sexual assaults to law enforcement.

“The more people you tell, the more shame you get rid of and the more empowered you feel,” she said. “By telling my story and putting my name with it, I hope people will think ‘I can tell my story because this girl did.'”

Coffman said she recommends Voice of Hope, a rape crisis center, to anyone who has experienced sexual assault.

The crisis center’s website states: “Voice of Hope commits to offering help, hope, and healing to all persons affected by sexual violence by providing education, awareness, and support as far as our arms can reach.”

Had she not been raped, Coffman said, she might have shrugged off the words written on the boat at the party.

“I think that it spreads the message that women belong to men, and if we’re drunk or we say no, we really mean yes,” she said.

Epilogue

Students hung a spray painted bed sheet on the science building as part of the protest. Photo posted to Twitter by user @the_bone_lady.

Students hung a spray painted bed sheet on the science building as part of the protest. Photo posted to Twitter by user @the_bone_lady.

Paul has returned to Tech to finish his degree this fall. Grace graduated in May, but she is still in Lubbock. She was surprised and sad when their paths accidentally crossed.

“I saw him just last weekend and had no idea he was back,” Grace said.

Paul’s friend and current fraternity president said Paul was suspended the semester he was supposed to graduate.

“I know this whole deal has affected him a lot, and every time we feel it’s in the past, it seems to come up again,” Paul’s friend added.

Grace said she wanted Paul to know what he did was wrong. She was grateful he was suspended until after her planned graduation date but dismayed he participated in the University Discipline Committee Hearing through a computer-mediated video call, while she chose to face him in person.

“It took me months to want to press charges, to go to counseling, to come back and face you in person, and you’re going to be on a computer screen?” Grace questioned.

The Student Counseling Center and Office of Student Conduct are both located on the second floor of the Student Wellness Center. Photo from the Health Sciences Center's website.

The Student Counseling Center and Office of Student Conduct are both located on the second floor of the Student Wellness Center. Photo from the Health Sciences Center’s website.

Henry said the best way to prevent sexual assault is to raise awareness about it.

“We offer resources, remedies and support for victims of sexual assault,” Henry said. “We also work with first-year students and the Greek community to prevent it from happening in the first place.”

People may be surprised to learn how the culture within the Greek community has changed since the boat sign incident, Henry said.

“The media has a way of highlighting the negative things,” he said. “The absence of news lately is news.”

Since the party incident, Hatch said, Phi Delta Theta has completed more than 10,000 community service hours, hosted professional educators to speak on campus about rape culture and done some serious self-reflection.

Voice of Hope, Lubbock Rape Crisis Center, does not publicize its location for safety reasons. Photo from the Voice of Hope website.

Voice of Hope, Lubbock Rape Crisis Center, does not publicize its location for safety reasons. Photo from the Voice of Hope website.

“My fraternity has learned that words matter and can cause emotional harm to others,” he said. “I believe that we are a much more sensitive and present-minded group of men.”

[Editor’s note: *Name has been changed for privacy.]

About Maddy McCarty

Maddy is the Graduate Executive Director for The Hub@TTU. She loves reading, writing and petting her cats. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism, is pursuing her master's in mass communications and wants to continue reporting on important issues.

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