This week's episode of SVU deals with acquaintance rape among college students. Because campus sexual assault is so underreported, it's hard to get accurate statistics, but most experts agree that roughly 20 - 25% of women are assaulted during their college years. And since the vast majority of these cases involve drugs, alcohol and assailants known to the victim, they are extremely difficult to prosecute, and the stigma of even coming forward and reporting the assault is huge.
Recently, though, more and more similar cases have been in the news - at Notre Dame, Wesleyan, Amherst, North Carolina, UCLA, Missoula, and more, and even among high school students, in places like Steubenville, Nova Scotia (follow up here) and Saratoga. Some of these cases are gaining national attention because, as the New York Times reported last month, more and more survivors are reaching out to each other using the Internet and social media, learning from others' experiences and creating a network of awareness and activism. (Interestingly, that article was published in the middle of filming this very episode.)
Too often, these cases involve inadequate, damaging responses by local authorities, campus police, school administrators, social workers and even friends and family, responses that can re-traumatize victims after a horrible assault. Though there are two sides to every story, many survivors are not even given a chance to tell theirs - they are often preemptively blamed for their actions that led to the assault, advised to "forgive and forget," or shamed into not reporting the attack at all, which can have tragic results. Many of these disturbing responses are compiled in Project Unbreakable, and their words helped inspire this week's episode.
So when you watch the episode "Girl Dishonored," keep in mind the reality of the campus rape epidemic - and the recent efforts to combat it. Even though most campuses still struggle to deal with this issue, awareness and transparency are vital first steps. As Detective Benson says in the episode, survivors can begin to heal when they're listened to, not when they're silenced.
If you're interested in more information or support services, visit the Joyful Heart Foundationor No More(and see how many times you hear the phrase "no more" in the episode). Another fantastic resource is RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), which also has in-depth information on acquaintance rape. And if you or someone you know has been assaulted on a college campus, see if your school has its own dedicated victim's advocacy program, or visit SAFER (Students Active for Ending Rape) or the Clery Center for Security on Campus where you can learn more about potential next steps. It's never too late to reach out for support. No one should go through this alone