Hosted by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association, this prestigious national award is open to books published between 2016 and 2017. Organizers say this year included the largest number of entries every drawing from a national pool of authors and publishers.
Unsafe On Any Campus? is written by Samuel R. Staley, a full-time faculty member in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. Staley joined the faculty in 2011 after 25 years in the nonprofit private sector. He was unaware of the extent of the problem, which is national in scope, until he learned the stories of survivors and their friends while coaching martial-arts based self-defense classes at FSU. Staley holds a black belt in To-Shin Do, a self-defense oriented version of the classic Japanese “ninja” martial art of Ninjutsu developed by ninja master Stephen K. Hayes.
“Virtually every student will know a survivor of sexual assault by the time he or she graduates from an American university or college,” says Staley, who acknowledges the extent of the problem may vary significantly by college and location. Staley describes his book as a primer for parents, college counselors, and students. “This book is my way of using more than 30 years of professional experience in the field of public policy analysis to explain a very complicated problem and outline practical pathways toward eliminating this scourge on our campuses,” he says.
“The FAPA President’s Book Award exists to promote excellence in the publishing industry by recognizing talented contemporary authors who put both heart and soul into their work. FAPA is proud to be a champion of authors and publishers going the extra mile to produce books of excellence in every aspect.” said Jane R. Wood, President-Elect of FAPA.
Ruth Krug, a survivor of campus sexual assault, writes in her Foreword: Unsafe On Any Campus? is “innovative, practical, and empowering” and “signifies a turning point in addressing rape and sexual assault in college and university environments.” Unsafe On Any Campus? is published by Southern Yellow Pine Publishing.
Medals were awarded at the annual FAPA President’s Book Awards Banquet held this year at the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace in the Disney Springs TM Area of Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
“We are proud to announce this year’s winners who truly embody the excellence this award was created to celebrate. We had a record number of entries this year. Competition was stiff! We salute all of our winners for their fine work,” said FAPA’s President, Terri Gerrell.
The Florida Authors & Publishers Association is an organization for authors, publishers, independent publishers, illustrators, editors, printers, and other professionals involved in the publishing industry. It focuses on providing the highest quality of information, resources, and professional development to members and others interested in the writing and publishing profession.
Most of the sexual assault survivors I have come to know in the process of researching and writing Unsafe On Any Campus? were teenagers when they were raped. For many, the assault turned their world upside down, sending them into a downward spiral of self-loathing, distrust, and cynicism. Fortunately, for most, resilience won out. In fact, a few have even found a new center, a renewed sense of self, and an element of peace.
This begs the question: What life lessons can we learn from these trauma survivors? Here are just five:
Live in the moment. In all too many cases, the rape was so traumatizing that victims dropped classes, withdrew from school altogether, or completely shifted their everyday lives inward. Their depression was fueled by continually reliving the events and the assault. Their transition from victim to survivor often began with a renewed and deeper appreciation for the moments of support, beauty, and dignity they experienced each day rather than reliving the horror of the assault. This allowed many to reclaims their sense of purpose and recapture the dignity that makes them human.
Draw strength from community. Eighty percent of women who have been raped never disclose the assault to university or law enforcement officials. The figure is even lower for men. The trauma is so personal, so devastating, that many victims are afraid to tell anyone, even their closest friends and family. Reaching out to those cared for them most intimately, those who gave their unqualified support, started them on their path toward recovery. Without the support of those friends and family, survivors say they wouldn’t have had the courage to acknowledge let alone go public with their assault. This close knit group because their rock, their community, and a foundation stone for rebuilding their lives.
We each have our own journey. Each survivor has their our own personal journey to recovery. The more survivors I met, the more obvious it became that each rape (and assault) was different, each circumstance was unique, each consequence personal. I have met women who were able to move on quickly, and others that struggled to leave their home. The depth of their trauma is highly individualized, making their journeys equally diverse. Survivors are deeply respectful and tolerant of the importance for individuals to chart their own course, to discover their own path, to recovery. This inward reflection leads to a recasting of identity and understanding of self that is inspiring strong and purposeful.
Each journey has its own path. Not all survivors choose the same road to recovery or healing. The physical and emotional nature of a violation through rape triggers deep wounds that are often invisible, even to those that experience it. Thus, the paths are as varied as the journeys and require many more decisions than paths available. These paths can seem like they shift under their feet, and often become illuminated only after they have been trodden. Survivors on a healing journey are remarkably resilient. They understand the nature of emotional barriers and the difficulties of overcoming them. They are patient and empathetic. They persist with grit and determination.
Forgiving yourself is essential for healing and stepping foot on our path. Often, this self-forgiveness begins when we acknowledge the truth of a seemingly trite, but essentially true, mantra: “It’s not your fault.” Many of the men and women I came to know became victims through no fault of their own. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and unaware of the threat standing right next to them. Yet they blame themselves first and this weight drags them deep into depression. The path toward healing begins with forgiving oneself. Indeed, this may be the most important lesson of all because this self-forgiveness releases one from the self loathing and guilt that keeps victims in the past, focused on the past, and their paths dark.
These teenagers became women far too soon, their innocence stolen in a matter of minutes. They were forced to “grow up” and become adults far faster than any parent would want for their child. Fortunately, many survivors find a place where they can accept themselves again and embark on a path of self re-discovery. These stories—their journeys of recovery and healing—are almost never told. They don’t make it into make it into the headlines. Yet, as these survivors pivot on their path, they often find a light others may never know.
They also inspire me.
By bearing witness to their trauma, we can take inspiration from their journeys. By allowing ourselves to hear, we can understand the struggles that come with trauma. If we understand, we can support those who are on their path as well as those struggling to find it.
Perhaps, if enough of us understand, sexual assault and rape will become relegated to a dark part of our social history and banished from our present culture.
Permission to reprint and distribute this blog post is given with attribution to the author, Samuel R. Staley, Unsafe On Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It (Southern Yellow Pine Publishing, 2016)
Video tapes of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump demeaning women and bragging about sexually assaulting them led to a firestorm on social media. For his part, Trump apologized while deflecting responsibility for the full weight of his actions by dismissing the banter as “locker room talk.” The fact Trump is so casual in his willingness to brag about sexual assault is deeply troubling because it fails to recognize how it contributes to a toxic environment on high school and college campus. Locker room talk like that exchanges captured on the audio table enables, abets, and sustains attitudes the promote campus sexual assault and rape.
In the three-minute recording, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Mr. Trump recounts to the television personality Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” how he once pursued a married woman and “moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there,” expressing regret that they did not have sex. But he brags of a special status with women: Because he was “a star,” he says, he could “grab them by the pussy” whenever he wanted.
Is this harmless banter, just playful back and forth between men?
I would have been more dismissive of the effects five years ago, before I started coaching self-defense to women at FSU. I would have thought the language was distasteful, disrespectful, and offensive, but I would not have put much stock in the banter among men as directly harmful. I would also have been wrong. Research now shows that 18-20% of women will report experiencing the kinds of sexual assault Trump brags about by the time they graduate from college (and the share is higher for non-college students).
Ample research has shown that fraternities, sororities, athletic teams, and certain cohorts of students hold general attitudes that diminish and objectivize women the way Trump did in his comments. For a few examples, see the study by Bannon, Brosi and Foubert on sorority and fraternity men’s attitudes in the Journal of student Affairs Research and Practice; the study by Chad Menning on perceptions of personal safety and risk at these parties in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence; and an analysis of fraternity party structure that produces these results by Brandon Harris and Dorothy Schmalz in the journal Deviant Behavior. While the question of whether our campuses are characterized by a widespread and deeply embedded rape culture is open to question, certain institutions and subgroups clearly do.
Thus, I now think differently. My perspective evolved because of the women I coach, the stories I’ve been privileged to learn about from sexual assault survivors, and a careful reading of research on young-adult behavior and human sexuality.
But what is still missing in the public outrage over Trump’s talk and his weak and shallow response is a clearer understanding of how this banter supports and sustains a rape culture, whether widespread or contained within smaller sub-groups.
Below are four ways “locker room talk” promotes misogyny and thus abets sexual assault on campuses.
1. Locker boom talk robs women of agency.
The narrative in this type of talk mocks the idea that women have any legitimate ability to prevent an attack on their body and human dignity. In other words, women cannot, should not, or do not, act on their own, with agency. The tone also promotes the idea that this weakness should be exploited regardless of their victim’s desires or preferences. It’s an attitude that is opposite the values taught in most Western societies—that those unable to defend themselves should be protected. The idea that a woman could, or should, object to these assaults, or say “no,” is dismissed, undermined, and pushed by perpetrators outside the boundaries of tolerable behavior or response, even when this behavior is highly offensive and even traumatizing. The banter is framed solely in the context of men taking what they want, regardless of the desires, preferences, or concerns of their target. This is what is meant by locker room talk “objectifying” women. Indeed, Trump laments that fact he could not actually force a women to have sex with him, as if it’s he was denied a legitimate claim. But this is just the first layer of misogyny.
2. Locker Room Banter forces women to play victim.
Because the narrative is set up to give men power, and to marginalize resistance by the target of the assault, women are forced to play victim. They must accept the injury without comment or resistance because that is their “place.” The talk de-legitimizes self-defense, retaliation against the harm inflicted, or efforts to seek justice by equalizing the balance of power. In fact, the behavior implicitly rejects that idea that a harm has been created by the victims, and efforts to search for redress or rebalancing of these relationships is therefore illegitimate. Thus, Trump gloats about how he can kiss women on the lips, or grab them between their legs, and they will simply take it without objecting or defending themselves.
3. Locker Room Banter deflects responsibility for bad behavior and the harm created.
Talk that victimizes and objectifies others reinforces attitudes about a natural order of supremacy between men over women. Trump’s words and banter establishes a male-dominated paternalism that allows him and others to ignore responsibility for any bad behavior and outcomes from their actions. This dominance forged in private, giving it a privileged status among equals that is separated from public behavior and accountability. “Boys will be boys” attitudes essentially absolves them of responsibility for their actions and the consequences for their victims, and these are the attitudes agreed to by the group or tribe. Women have to just “get over it” and accept that this is what men do. This separates thoughts from actions as if it were okay to think about hurting people as long as someone’s doesn’t act on it, or isn’t caught performing the act. (But of course Trump is bragging about acts he claims he perpetrated.) Thus, the men in the trailer react positively to Trump’s claims of repeated attempts and successes in assaulting the women he comes in contact with.
4. Locker Room Banter perpetuates victimization and harmful behavior among offenders.
Cognitive psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy has shown that thoughts and behaviors are intertwined, and one cannot separate them easily. One way of looking at this is that if someone habitually and routinely objectifies other people, their behavior begins to track with those thoughts and is patterned by those prejudices. Thus, words become actions. Locker room talk normalizes the behavior being described, thus perpetuating actions that further diminish, objectify, and harm women (or others that are the target of the attacks). Again, this is clear in the audio tape by the reaction from the other men, who seem encouraged by Trump’s self-described success and admiration for his ability to use his privilege to continue his assaults without consequence.
In Unsafe On Any Campus?, I argue that the respect for individual human dignity must form the core of a holistic and comprehensive approach to sexual assault on college campuses. The locker room banter used by Donald Trump, and accepted by the other men in the trailer, flies in the face of that concept by completely ignoring and belittling the value of the women he has targeted with his assaults. The fact Donald Trump does not seem to understand this, and in fact boasts of how he intentionally assaults the dignity of women by using the privileges bestowed on him by wealth and celebrity, is a dramatic illustration of why sexual assault continues to be a significant problem on college campuses in and society more generally.
Here is also a short interview I provided to the Capitol News Service on October 11, 2016, explaining some of these thoughts.
These messages formed a multi-day conversation on the effects of college rape on young women
I still remember the day my business manager came into my office and said “you have to see what’s on the women’s bathroom door.” What followed changed the course of my life, personally and professionally.*
Written in permanent black marker was a heartbreaking question: “How do you get over being raped?”
Having someone ask the question in person is wrenching enough, but for a young woman to feel the desperation acutely enough to use the anonymity and randomness of a stall door was worse. We were in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, a far cry from any victim support services or law enforcement. For Ruth, a campus rape survivor, the question was rattling enough.
Even for those like me, who had not experienced that kind of soul-tearing assault, could feel the pain, confusion, and emptiness implied in the words and act.
But what happened over the following days was more extraordinary. Other women responded, spontaneously, sincerely, and constructively. Based on writing styles, ink colors and consistency, I estimate that between 14 and 18 women contributed to what became a conversation across the entire door.
At first, women provided information about institutional support: the FSU police department, office of the victim advocate, and emergency numbers were listed. Then, the conversation turned to the human tragedy.
A spontaneous response to a rape victim’s query on how to get over being raped.
In this anonymous, sterile, empty physical space, women provided heartfelt personal support and counsel. “I was raped, as well,” a new contributor to the discussion testified. “Just know you’re not alone sweetheart.” Another inked in elegant handwriting:“Your value and dignity as a woman are unchanged” followed by a heart symbol (emphasis by original author).
And the support kept coming,
“Remember, its (sic) not your fault. You re (sic) perfect, you are worthy. You are beautiful inside and out. Never forget, your sisters are here for you.”
“This does not define you. Look to the future, allow yourself hope and ambition. Set goals, you are amazing.” (heart symbol)
And they still encouraged her to call the police—“Sisters help each other. Making that call is scary”
A rape victim’s response to her supporters on the bathroom stall door
In a powerful statement about to the ability of humans to connect through personal tragedy, the initial victim responded: “You guys are so nice to me. Thank you for that.”
Remarkably, the maintenance and cleaning staff at FSU let the conversation flow and did not clean the door for days (perhaps weeks). Perhaps they sensed the importance of the conversation for the woman who asked the question, the women who provided support to her and other survivors, and for raising awareness about the pervasiveness of the problem and the desperation of women caught in its vortex.
I don’t know if the young woman sought counseling, or took advantage of the university’s counseling services, or ever met the other dozen or so women that provided support to her.
The effect on me, however, was powerful. These brave, anonymous women allowed themselves to become vulnerable, confessing their own soul wrenching experiences while providing unsolicited, spontaneous support for their sisters. No other event showed how important sexual assault and rape were as events that shaped campus culture and the experiences of women on campus.
Prior to this, I had born witness to individual survivor stories. These were personal relationships. As a social scientist and public policy analysis, they were anecdotes. Now they were no longer anecdotes. I saw a pattern. This conversation convinced me that this issue needed a voice that could raise awareness about its depth, grounded in the emotional experiences of survivors, and think through the hard problems of coming up with a solution even if they were controversial.
A woman’s spontaneous encouragement to a rape survivor’s testimony
I don’t know if I am that voice, but the product of my personal revolve to address this problem on college campuses and wrestle with the public policy implications led to blogging and eventually writing Unsafe on Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It. The book’s cover incorporates some of the photos of this conversation taken by Ruth, and used with permission, to provide testimony on the emotional toll sexual assault and rape take on young men and women on our campuses.
I want to give a shout out to Judy Williams Kirk for suggesting I figure out a way to incorporate these testimonies into the cover and to Gina B Smith for her provocative and heartfelt cover design.
Read more about Unsafe on Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It.
Unsafe On Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It
Buy the book at Southern Yellow Pine Publishing. (Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Southern Yellow Pine Publishing for larger order discounts of 5+ and 25+. Pre-orders can be purchased with a $3 discount using the coupon code READ.
*Note, an earlier version of this article misidentified Ruth Krug as the woman who brought the messages to my attention. In fact, my business manager, Judy Kirk, alerted both of us to the words. Ruth, a campus rape survivor, worked for me at the time, and she was the one who chronicled the conversation through photos each day as the contributions lengthened.
How many students become victims of sexual assault on college campuses?
What can students do to protect themselves and their friends?
What are colleges doing to address campus sexual assault?
What questions should every student ask their college admissions officer?
These and other questions will be answered by participants in a discussion moderated by Sam Staley, author of Unsafe On Any Campus?
Doors will open at 6:30 pm with the program beginning at 7 pm and wrapping up by 9 pm. Red-Eye Coffee and refreshments will be provided, courtesy of Element3 Church and Southern Yellow Pine Publishing. The forum will be highly interactive, maximizing audience input and questions. We will also be running a simultaneous Facebook event so anyone from around the world can participate and ask questions. (Details on this to follow.)
Here are the details on the speakers:
Ruth is a certified trauma-sensitive yoga trainer, mindfulness teacher, and campus rape survivor based in the Midwest. She is also a Restorative Justice practitioner who has worked in local public schools at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels. A graduate of Florida State University, she majored in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences with a focus on political science, nonprofit administration and economics. Ruth’s healing journey is chronicled along with other survivor stories and testimonies on her blogs Feeding the Heartand Reclaiming Lost Voices.
Christopher Krebs, PhD
Chief Scientist, Center for Justice, Safety, and Resilience, RTI International
Chris has extensive research experience in the areas of corrections, substance abuse epidemiology and treatment, intimate partner violence and sexual violence, HIV transmission among and associated high-risk behaviors of offenders and inmates, criminal justice systems, and program evaluation. He has led and worked on a number of projects for the National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. He has employed both quantitative and qualitative methods in his research and has extensive experience designing studies, developing survey instruments, analyzing data, and disseminating findings. Dr. Krebs has published and presented numerous research papers on a wide variety of topics.
Jennifer Broomfield, LISW, JD
Title IX Director, Florida State University
Jenniferis a licensed attorney and clinical social worker. Prior to coming to FSU, Ms. Broomfield served as the National Program Manager for the Department of Veterans Affairs Intimate Partner Violence Program. Ms. Broomfield has served as an Assistant Attorney General in the Children’s Legal Services Department of the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Florida where she investigated and prosecuted sexual assault and child abuse dependency cases. Additionally, Ms. Broomfield has been an adjunct professor of social work at undergraduate and graduate programs in New Mexico.
Rose Rezaie, MEd
Assistant Director, Center for Health Advocacy and Wellness, Florida State University
Rose’s main responsibilities include overseeing campus wide initiatives at FSU encompassing sexual violence prevention and sexual health education. Rose received her Bachelor’s in Mass Communication and Master’s in College Student Affairs from the University of South Florida. Creating space where students feel empowered to take ownership of their lives through education and skill building serves as the foundation of her work. Outside of FSU, she enjoys attending community events, thrift shopping, and traveling.
Kori Pruett, MS
Power-Based Personal Violence Coordinator, Florida State University
Kori’s main responsibilities at FSU include educating students on the dynamics of sexual violence, the myths that surround sexual violence, ways to obtain and define consent, empowering students through bystander intervention, and informing students about campus resources and support. She is also the Co-Chair of the Curriculum Development Sexual Violence Prevention Sub Committee. Kori received her Master’s and Bachelor’s in International Affairs from Florida State University. In her spare time she participates in community service organizations, enjoys outdoor adventures, and travels to as many new locations as possible.
Unsafe on Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It
Unsafe on Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It is set for official release on July 28, 2016, at a location yet to be determined. Books are on sale now for pre-order, including a $3 off discount when purchasing from Southern Yellow Pine Publishing and using the coupon code READ.
This book is an unsparing, uncompromising and unflinching look at today’s campus environments and examines why they pose significant risks to men and women for sexual assault. Ruth Krug, a campus rape survivor who also writes the Forward to the book, says it signals “a turning point in how we address rape and sexual assault in college and university environments.”
The release event is planned to be more than just a book release. We will have experts on campus sexual assault to answer questions and discuss the problem and what colleges and universities are doing to prevent it.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter 1. Campus Rape and the Soul of College Chapter 2. Sex, Rape and Human Dignity Chapter 3. Sexual Assault and the Failure of Civil Society Chapter 4. Sexual Assault, Predatory Rape, and Campus Culture Chapter 5. Experts Talk About Sexual Assault on College Campuses Chapter 6. Moving Forward: Changing Culture Chapter 7. Personal Trauma as the Starting Point Chapter 8. The Path Forward: A Trauma-Centered Approach Chapter 9. The Reluctant Education of an Anti-Campus Rape Crusader
Unsafe on Any Campus? College Sexual Assault, and What We Can Do About It is available for pre-order from Southern Yellow Pine Publishing with an official release date set for July 28, 2016! The retail price is $14.95. Discounts begin with orders of 5 or more (25%) with orders of 25 or more receiving a 40% discount. Contact SYPPublishing for more details.
Unsafe on Any Campus? is an unsparing and unflinching look into the reality of today’s campus life and why it puts students at risk for sexual assault and rape each year. Sam Staley examines in depth why current strategies that rely on the U.S. court system to achieve justice fall short of achieving meaningful resolution, tapping into the personal stories of rape survivors, recent academic research, and his experience as a self-defense coach to frame a bold strategy for dealing with this ongoing scourge. His conclusions challenge the conventional wisdom of advocates, campus rape deniers, and many in the law enforcement community. Long-term success, he contends, requires a comprehensive plan that builds a trauma-centered framework on four pillars—human dignity, personal and bystander empowerment, accountability for offenders, and a narrow and more effective role for the criminal justice system. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the problem of sexual assault on today’s university and college campuses.
How many students are sexually assaulted each year on today’s college campuses?
Are today’s students victims of a sexually permissive culture, sexual predators, rampant misogyny among fraternities, and insensitive college bureaucracies?
What anti-sexual assault programs really work?
What are the six questions every incoming freshman and parent should ask their university or college administration?
What are the ten proactive steps parents can take to reduce the risk that their children will experience sexual assault and rape when they enter college?
“This book signals a turning point in addressing rape and sexual assault in college and university environments. It is innovative, practical, and empowering. How we address rape and sexual assault needs to change, and this book will take the reader through the process of understanding human sexuality, rape, trauma, and how we can help ground a new approach that will eliminate this scourge on campus life.”
My 1973 Volkswagen Squareback was totaled in a 1983 car accident and was very similar to this one.
I remember three things, snapshots really, from the event that would shape the rest of my life in the early morning hours of frosty February day in 1983.
The first was opening my eyes to blackness. At first I thought I was blind. After a few moments, I realized I was looking up at the vinyl back seat of my volkswagon squareback. I must have said something because I heard my good friend Bill’s voice say: “It’ll be okay, an ambulance is coming.”
The second snapshot wasn’t a snapshot at all. I don’t remember seeing the inside of the ambulance, or the question which must have been “How bad is it?” All I remember is the paramedic–I assumed it was a paramedic because it wasn’t Bill’s voice–say, “You’re lucky to be alive.”
I remember the visual of the third snapshot. I was on a gurney rolling down a hallway in a hospital. I began to shake and cry uncontrollably. Or so I thought. A nurse said, “We’ve got a crier here.” Anger snapped me out of crying. But that’s it. I don’t remember anything else from that day.
Friends and family filled in the rest. The surgeon spent four of the six hours in surgery trying to close up the gaping hole that was the left side of my face. The doctors had to pick out individual shards of glass and asphalt with tweezers, and then figure out how they were going to graft enough skin from somewhere else on my body to sew me up. Every nerve was exposed, but, for the grace of God, none were severed. We still don’t know how I kept my left eye because half of my eyebrow was stripped off and gravel was burrowed deep around the socket. The first few days after the surgery were agony, not so much in pain–medications kept that at bay–as extreme, turbulent discomfort.
The entire episode from the car crash to surgery must have taken hours, but I remember snippets of minutes. My body and brain were shutting down, a natural, defensive state of shock triggered by an extreme loss of blood and physical trauma.
Flash forward 20 years. I am running a loop in a 200-acre wooded wildlife preserve. Just past my turnaround–a mile and three quarters from home–a numbing pain shoots up from my foot as I feel the turn of my ankle on an unseen rock. I hobble out of the woods after crossing two streams using a branch as a makeshift crutch. My dog, on a leash, was no help.
Someone asks me if I heard a “pop”. I say “no,” so we conclude that I sprained my ankle. I Bu Profen and ice packs control the swelling and reduce the pain. Three weeks later, my ankle still hurts, but I’m on a ski trip with my friend Karl in Telluride, Colorado. A “skiers ski area,” I am on the black diamonds. While skiing Giant Steps, a double-black diamond, pain from my ankle keeps me from descending more than a couple dozen feet at a time through the moguls. I am embarrassed. I am a better skier than this. But I listen to the barking ankle, and I bail on the next run, letting Karl ski the black diamond as our last run of the day while I suck up the pain and take the easier blue trails down to the base.
When I return home, I finally visit the orthopedic doctor. A skier, he examines my ankle and asks if I heard a “pop” when I injured the ankle. Again, I say “no.” He orders the x-ray anyway.
When he returns, he gives me the news: I had broken my ankle on the run in the woods. I look at him in disbelief. “Is it a hairline fracture?”
He slaps the x-ray up on a monitor and points to the bones of my foot. “No, it was a clean break.”
He’s right, of course. Even I can see the thick straight line that represents the break in my ankle.
I was lucky. The bone broke but snapped back into near perfect alignment. That’s why I was able to walk out of the woods. It started to heal, but skiing put too much pressure on the break. My ski boots were stiff and tight, acting as a cast to hold the bones in place, but if I had been snowboarding the ankle would have re-broken and the damage far more severe than the first time.
The point to the car accident story is that my body, doing what it does naturally, shut out much of the trauma I was experiencing. I have monstrous gaps in memory on the day of the accident even though I must have been conscious a fair amount of the time.
The point of the broken ankle story is I did not hear a snap. I should have heard a snap. The break was complete and clean. But I didn’t.
In other words, your body and mind does many things to protect you when you experience trauma. Sometimes, it blots out entire memories.
Perhaps it’s these experiences, and my reflection on them, that gave me the courage to step way outside my comfort zone and write my new book Unsafe On Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It. I understood trauma in a personal way, so when rape survivors began sharing their stories their memories didn’t have to be complete for me to put the pieces together and recognize the truth of their experience.
One of the most damaging and significant criticisms leveled at men and women who claim they have been assaulted or raped is that their memories are incomplete, and dots between events don’t connect well. Incomplete or uncertain knowledge is one of the primary reasons why rape cases don’t go to court unless significant physical evidence can support the victim’s story. Unless the victim can present an ironclad chronicle of events, the case falls apart, particularly when they are faced with an (untraumatized) accuser who can present a complete, consistent case. It shouldn’t be surprising that only about 10 percent of rape cases end in a conviction on the rape charge.
Total recall of a traumatic event is an unreasonable expectation for human beings. The difference between my traumas and those of a rape survivor lie in the physical evidence, not the truth of the trauma. I still literally carry the scars of my car accident–they become bright red when my body is very hot or cold. I can show people the x-ray of my broken ankle.
What does a rape survivor show? How do you see the scars of a shattered soul? (Hint: Don’t judge and listen to their story.)