Be Brave: An Open Letter to Her of BGSU

Contemplating writing this post, I decided to track down the original Facebook post that began the uproar that has put Bowling Green State University in the headlines over the past few days. I had heard most of the second-hand information splattered across social media platforms, and I believed that I knew what this post’s main topic would be on.

I had heard multiple people dismissing this case as “she didn’t want to take this farther,” and “she asked the University not to investigate.” I figured I would be writing a post on being brave. On sacrificing a slammed door to the incident for the sake of the rest of the female community as a whole. I figured this girl took the route I was so tempted to take. Declining an investigation allows for what happened to be put aside, it allows for the mirage of it never actually happening. I wouldn’t have blamed her if this had been the case. But it wasn’t.

The only reason she stopped fighting was because the university never began fighting for her in the first place. Yes, there are legalities and processes and other such things that I could not pretend to understand, but how hard would it be to say “I believe you. I am sorry this happened to you. Let’s work together to make sure this never happens again.” Sexual Assault victims are not looking for personal gain. They are looking for hope and security that what happened to them might not happen to others.

That is my message to you, friend. Tragedy brings a feeling of hopelessness that is seemingly impossible to fall away from. Hurting the person who hurt you will not free you from despair. Revenge is as useful as it is sweet. It is not. Fight not for justice, but for the abolition of what is happening around us in this world. I chose to pursue prosecution of my attackers because I wanted to show others that treating another human being as they did is not acceptable in today’s world. I chose to instigate due to a hope that I could play a small role in making the world a better place.

Be Brave.

Investigate.

Make Sure The World Knows This Isn’t Okay.

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Visible Support for the Invisible Pain: Psychiatric Service Dogs and Sexual Assault Survivors

After completing an investigative inquiry on the relationship between sexual assault and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I asked myself what a possible solution could be. Psychiatric Service Dogs were a possible solution that I discovered, yet they were not being used in any amount of mass popularity though they proved to be helpful in a victim’s healing process. This paper delves into the question, “Why are service dogs not widely used to improve the quality of life for sexual assault survivors?”

Visible Support for the Invisible Pain: Psychiatric Service Dogs and Sexual Assault Survivors

Over the past few decades, the mental health industry has grown in understanding phenomenally. Much of this is due to breakthroughs in medicine and technology. But what if there was a method of treatment that has been accessible for centuries, yet is ignored and underfunded in today’s society? One may ask how this could be, and the answer is capitalism. If this treatment is not an object “big pharma” can profit off, it has very little hope of widespread popularity without intentional awareness being brought to the public’s attention. Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) have been proven to lessen symptoms of mental illness and allow their human companions to become less dependent on drugs, they show promise in improving the lives of sexual assault (SA) victims yet because of lack of research funding and the high cost of training the animal they are not widely used aside from military veterans suffering from PTSD.

Introduction of Psychiatric Service Dogs

A common image of a service dog is a seeing eye dog, yet there are many other disabilities that can be mitigated with the help of a service dog. Marshall specifies a PSD as the following: “A service dog trained individually to mitigate the effects of their disabled partner’s psychiatric disabilities by performing specific tasks” (Marshall, 1998). The intention of including PSDs in mental health treatment is to mitigate the handler’s symptoms and improve quality of life through independence (2012). There are different tasks a PSD can be trained to perform. One of the most relevant tasks is an alert, which is an extremely important action to many who suffer from seemingly random panic and anxiety attacks. An alert is an immediate and obvious change in the dog’s behavior, often manifesting in an act of barking, jumping, or pawing to attract the owner’s attention. The dog is trained to alert once they sense a rise in the handler’s blood pressure or heartrate, or sporadic breathing. An alert allows the handler to realize what is happening and to curb the effects before they become full blown (Marshal, 2012).  Reports were made specifying how have a service dog has changed a person’s life. One testimony being, “Robert discussed how even signing up for the training with Amy had pushed him to go back into public spaces and to attempt things that he had not been comfortable doing for years. He also discussed how having a goal to work towards gave him strength” (Marshall, 2012). Another testimony states the following, “I mean, it’s been life changing. It’s given me more of a clear path and direction as to where I want to be a few years from now. It’s given me more hope and light at the end of the tunnel. I can accomplish things; I can get back to some type of normalcy” (Marshall, 2012). Though these animals bring great joy, a “conservative estimate” of the number of PSD-handler teams determined by the PSDs equaled 10,000 (NIMH, 2017). This number is minute compared to the amount of PSDs that could possibly be used today.

Psychiatric Issues and Current Relations to PSDs

Mental disorders are prevalent in today’s society. Studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that major mental disorders cost the nations at least $193 billion a year in lost earnings alone. Combined with disability benefits and health care expenditures, the total cost of major mental illness to the nation is over $300 billion a year. According to studies by the National Institute of Mental Health, 46.4% will be expected to experience a diagnosable mental disorder in their lifetime. Only 39.2% of those with a diagnosed disorder receive mental health services (2017). This should lead to asking the question, would PSDs lower this cost? PSDs are a small investment that could save this nation billions of dollars annually, yet private insurance agencies do not currently subsidize PSDs for mental health treatment though they have been proven to alleviate symptoms. This is worrisome as PSDs have been proven to be beneficial to those suffering from mental illness. Studies have been done to look at how PSDs may help those with PTSD.

Newton’s research found that:

“On July 22, 2009, Senator Al Franken introduced bill S. 1495, the Service Dogs for Veterans Act (SDVA) of 2009, as his first piece of legislation. The Act requires the VA to begin a three-year pilot program “to assess the benefits, feasibility, and advisability of using service dogs for the treatment or rehabilitation of veterans with physical or mental injuries or disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder.”

            Another issue those whom rely on PSDs face is discrimination due to the lack of visible disabilities. Due to the invisibility of mental illness and PTSD, PSDS are often discriminated against in public, illegally being barred from access to locations protected by the ADA. There is also no certification that proves a PSD is legitimate, and a rise in fake service dogs has caused suspicion against anyone who is not obviously handicap (Newton, 2014). In a study, Newton observed that, “Every participant had experienced having someone ask them to leave their place of business or tell them that they were unable to bring their dog with them inside. For some participants, it was a small inconvenience that could be dealt with either by going to another business that did not object or by explaining their legal rights to enter as the dogs were licensed service dogs (Newton, 2014).” This issue, though not wanted, should not effect how many people look to PSDs to improve their quality of life.

Sexual Assault and Psychiatric Disorders

Rape is traumatic because it includes a loss of control over one’s body during assault. This can lead to a shattering of women’s beliefs about their own safety in the world. In a study done by Chang et al  involving female college students, it was discovered that female victims of sexual assault, compared with nonvictims, reported significantly greater depressive symptoms (2014). General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is another mental disorder alike PTSD that SA victims often acquire after an assault due to the change of perspective while looking at the world around them. GAD often affects a person’s quality of life as “individuals with GAD experience frequent feelings of anxiety and worry about several events or circumstances, which they find difficult to control. This condition has lasted for at least six months prior to diagnosis (Holmes, 1998).” In her research, Kolk found that victims rarely suffer from flashbacks like war veterans and instead their symptoms mainly include being unable to be present and calm, being “out of it,” being overwhelmed by rage, and lacking meaningful involvement with their current lives (2013). A large majority of rape survivors suffer from intense psychological reactions directly after the attack, and often lasts for up to three months. Severe symptoms lasting longer than this acute phase is what most diagnose as PTSD. The definition of PTSD has newly changed, the greatest difference is the shift from an anxiety disorder to a new category of trauma. The diagnosis has remained mainly stagnant with symptoms including recurrent, involuntary and intrusive distress memories, avoidance of distressing memories and thoughts, as well as hypervigilance.

Many victims begin to show symptoms of PTSD after losing important societal connections and ties that are severed after an incident. Individuals blame themselves for the assault due to making choices that allowed the incident though legally they cannot be faulted for. This type of self-blame often comes up in dialogue as “I should have left the party earlier,” or “I could have parked somewhere else.” It is completely irrational, as no one could possibly know the future. These thoughts are illogical, but often put much weight on a victim as they try to discover what could have possible prevented their assault. No one is at fault except the person who decided to prey on another. In Miller’s paper, “Self-Blame Among Sexual Assault Victims”, ‘‘The locus of violence rests squarely in the middle of what our culture defines as ‘normal’ interaction between men and women.’’ (2007) She found that in her study, 73% of rape victims directly denied that they had been raped. One theory to explain this curiosity is that because violent and crass behavior is expected of young males, female victims do not believe their experience was anything out of the norm nor anything worth reporting. The tendency to blame women for their victimization is internalized by victims, leading to statistics reporting of hiding victimization rather than reporting it. When initially seeking help after an assault, these women report of disturbances in sleep patterns, sexual function, appetite, and spoke of assault-related fears. Even with these severe and often life-altering symptoms, only a total of 31% of victims returned to a follow-up visit, most never seeking psychological help again afterwards (Holmes, 1998).

The Possible Benefits of Paring PSDs with SA Survivors

Animals are known to serve as social lubricants by stimulating conversation and facilitating human-interaction. The study  done by Holmes showed that female abuse survivors who were paired with a PSD after being diagnosed with PTSD resulted in increased self-esteem, feelings of empowerment, decreased anxiety and decreased depression. One argument for the use of PSDs is the fact that they are a non-invasive form of therapy (1998). PSDs are able to reduce their handler’s symptoms without the use of medication or allow their handlers to become less dependent on traditional medication. This allows those affected with mental disorders to avoid unwanted side effects and reducing or removing medication can increase the treatment options of possible other health conditions. Animal therapy is not widely used in western-medicine, though there are many types that have been proven to do wonders for those who utilize the human/animal bond.

Marshal references a study by Meinmersmann that looked at the cost effectiveness of Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy with female abuse survivors. Participants found that they experienced much more dramatic results within a short time period compared to traditional conversational psychotherapy. Though the equine therapy did cost more per session, the fast results made it less expensive overall to get the same results of conversational therapy (2014). Service and therapy animals are used in many different situations. The cost would not differ greatly from traditional therapy if insurances covered the same amount as they did for conversational therapy.

One type of therapy dog that has become popular in recent years is a Residential Mascot (RM) (Marshal, 2012). These dogs live in a facility, often nursing homes, and provide emotional support for residents. Not only do they offer support, but they create and facilitate an atmosphere of social bonding within the facility. One issue many SA survivors struggle with is withdrawing from society after the attack and the use of dogs in this context would surely mitigate symptoms.

PSDs are trained to perform tasks to assist their handler in everyday living and many tasks these dogs are trained for would be beneficial to SA survivors. Some of the most often seen tasks include: Alerting a handler to mounting anxiety levels, proving reality to a handler believed to be hallucinating, rousing a handler when sedated in the presence of danger, forcing a depressed handler out of bed with persistent activity, using their bodyweight to perform deep pressure therapy with handler, interjecting when handler begins to self-harm, alerting and rousing handler during night terrors, turning on lights during night terrors or panic attacks, providing a barrier in public places, alerting to the presence of others in an environment, “clearing” a home for intruders before the handler enters, finding exits during panic attacks, and grounding a handler in the present during flashbacks of an assault (Marshal, 2012). This disbands the claim that PSDs do nothing more than offer companionship. Though companionship is an important part of the works these animals do.

 In Newton’s study of pairing PTSD suffers with PSDs, most participants recorded that they felt as if they had lost all hope before beginning the study. All participants expressed great improvement once they were paired with a PSD. After obtaining their PSD, participants reported that they were able to venture into public spaces with far less anxiety and were able to return to feeling like “a normal person”. All participants reported a decrease in their dependence of medication after receiving their dog. This is included in the six most reported side effects of receiving a PSD. The six are decreased fear of public spaces, decreased anxiety, decreased depression, nightmare interruption, medication reduction, and compatibility with other treatments (2014). To say anybody with a mental illness should get himself a dog would be irresponsible. If a person can’t go into public spaces without their dog, that’s a condition that should be treated, not encouraged. These animals should be used to help a victim through recovery rather than become a crutch for one to lean of for the rest of their life.

PSDs Act as a Physical Testimony

When a veteran returns home from war, they will not be forced to testify to prove the fact that they had been in the military. They will not be asked what they were wearing when a bomb was set off. They are socially accepted as a hero who sacrificed for their country. These are not the same reactions that SA survivors receive when they express their ordeal. A study by Ullman in 2014 looked at how reactions of loved ones and strangers effected a woman’s healing process after SA. Common negative social reactions to the disclosure of their ordeal include victim blaming, attempting to force the victim into an action (ex: telling the police), or focusing on how the disclosure impacted their relationship with the aggressor rather than caring for the victim. As predicted, negative social reactions to a victim speaking on the SA was related to greater PTSD symptoms. This is because negative social reactions to assault disclosure were associated with less perceived control over recovery, causing a victim to deem the world around them as unsafe and feel the need to protect themselves accordingly with damaging coping habits (Ullman, 2014). A PSD could be useful in curbing these habits. Using a dog to be aware of surroundings allows a handler to feel as if they no longer need to be on-guard at all times. Having a larger animal in proximity is it’s own measure of safety as a possible assailant may be more hesitant to act than if a female was walking alone.

Necessary But Not Profitable

PTSD has in the past, been closely related to those in combat. Yet SA victims are diagnosed with the disorder at a 10% higher rate than veterans. Today, almost all media attention, research, and funding regarding PSDs is associated with the military and the expanding population of veterans coming home with PTSD symptoms. Increasing amounts of privately funded nonprofits provide service dogs to veterans at no cost. One reason PSDs are used at a higher capacity with veterans is because most civilians do not have the resources to pay for a $20,000 animal. Service dog research is scattered and underfunded as pharmaceutical companies aren’t interested in non-drug therapy (Jacobson, 2014). Though insurance companies do not cover service dogs, the federal government is looking at whether to provide them in certain cases to veterans. After dogs proved to be helpful with wounded Iraqi war veterans, this year the Department of Veteran Affairs kicked off a three-year study to assess the benefits. The VA is reimbursing nonprofit organizations $10,000 for each dog they provide to a veteran (Patriot-News, 2010). No such federal program exists for SA survivors.

One reason that PSDs may be especially beneficial to SA victims is because they are often abused by people close to them and can have more issues with trust and relationships than people who have suffered trauma like a natural disaster (Jacobson, 2014). Nancy Fierer, the director of Susquehanna Service Dogs, said 70 percent of people who need dogs can’t afford them. While the organization offers financial assistance for some and won’t turn away anyone in need, not being able to pay the fee extends how long a person has to wait for a dog. Those who receive a dog are required to pay $5,000 — an amount that is sometimes hard for those suffering from disabilities to pay. It costs the organization approximately $20,000 to train a single dog (Patriot-News, 2010). This would be considered cruel to withhold treatment if it was in any other form,

Sexual assault is prevalent in today’s society, yet it is only recently being accepted that women cannot just get up and walk away from said ordeal. PSDs are a way not only to improve the quality of life for a SA survivor, but also create awareness for the problem that is mental health disorders. PSDs should become more accessible to those in need of them, just as any other treatment should be. Dogs should not be used as a crutch to walk with the rest of a SA survivor’s life, but a tool to be used in healing. This can only become a norm once both the work service dogs do and the trauma of sexual assault is taken seriously by the general public.

A Study of the Correlation Between Sexual Assault and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

During the most recent presidential campaign, one candidate was constantly accused of allegations of sexual assault, rape, and derogatory treatment against women. After the first piece came out with proven evidence of its accuracy, many believed that this candidate was finished and would drop out of the race in shame. He did not, so those who called for his resignation now called for an apology. Instead they were given a hasty excuse of “boys will be boys.” The fact that this person can find success in our nation after showing blatant disrespect to half of the population shows that our society is not gender equal and does not give justice to those it allows to become victims of “boys will be boys.” The awareness of sexual assault and the acceptance that many assault victims suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is growing, and because of this funding has been given to the research of support and treatment that is different from previous treatments created specifically for war veterans.

From the first recognition as a disorder, PTSD has often been associated with war veterans and first responders. These brave men and women must live with their experiences for the rest of their lives, and society has respected their service and have accepted their newfound disability connected to it. It has been fairly recent that survivors of sexual assault and rape have been given the same courtesy to openly struggle with their mental scars. Veterans and survivors have much in common, both trying to navigate through invisible obstacles that make daily life often impossible. Many assaults are committed by those previously close to the victim, and being hurt be those one trusts is much like not knowing who the enemy in the field is, worrying about shooting at friend or foe. There is strong and compelling evidence that a majority of rape survivors suffer largely immediately following the rape, and now there is research proving that many also suffer from chronic psychological problems for years after. The severity of these problems differ due to many different variables including social support, their relationship with the perpetrator, and physical damage caused initially. This is proven in Ullman’s study, “both preassault ratings of social support in general and postassault support responses should affect recovery from traumatic events like rape.  In general, persons with better social support have better mental and physical health and general social support is an important buffer of life stress.” Statistics gathered by Holmes in the study in 1998 shows that more than 12 million women in the United States have been sexually victimized, and more than 680,000 adult women are sexually assaulted each year. When initially seeking help after an assault, these women report of disturbances in sleep patterns, sexual function, appetite, and spoke of assault-related fears. Even with these severe and often life-altering symptoms, only a total of 31% of victims returned to a follow-up visit, most never seeking psychological help again afterwards. One reason for lack of social support and seeking out professional mental healthcare is in correlation with the role of the perpetrator in the victim’s life.

Women sexually assaulted by a stranger are more likely to contact police and define the event as an assault. Many believe this to be true because attacks like this are seen as “black and white” rather than “grey”. Rape within the confines of a relationship is more questionable in our society and would often be considered “grey”. Defining the attack as an assault allows the victim to receive more medical and mental health care compared to those who delay disclosure do to fear of a close relationship with the criminal. Those who cover or hide their assault often avoid dealing with the reality of the event by drinking, withdrawing from social circles, and dropping out of school or work. Women also face societal stigma after reporting claims of sexual assault. This is described as a “second injury” (Zoellner) which refers to a lack of support after a traumatic event caused by disbelief of its verification and lack of support coming from one’s community, society, family, and friends. Many victims begin to show symptoms of PTSD after losing important societal connections and ties that are severed after an incident. Individuals blame themselves for the assault due to making choices that allowed the incident though legally they cannot be faulted for. This type of self-blame often comes up in dialogue as “I should have left the party earlier,” or “I could have parked somewhere else.” It is completely irrational, as no one could possibly know the future. These thoughts are illogical, but often put much weight on a victim as they try to discover what could have possible prevented their assault. No one is at fault except the person who decided to prey on another. In Miller’s paper, Self-Blame Among Sexual Assault Victims, ‘‘The locus of violence rests squarely in the middle of what our culture defines as ‘normal’ interaction between men and women.’’ (2007) She found that in her study, 73% of rape victims directly denied that they had been raped. One theory to explain this curiosity is that because violent and crass behavior is expected of young males, female victims do not believe their experience was anything out of the norm nor anything worth reporting. The tendency to blame women for their victimization is internalized by victims, leading to statistics reporting of hiding victimization rather than reporting it.

PTSD is often thought to only happen after a sudden, well defined incident. This societal view can be harmful to others whose PTSD was onset due to a long term involvement with an abusive partner or other building trauma. In Kolk’s article, it has been found that for most traumas involving women and children occur in the context of intimate relationships rather than after meeting a stranger on the street. “Researchers consistently report that in approximately 2 to 3 months, many of these early reactions have lessened and although levels of various symptoms have not returned to normal they have improved in most rape survivors. (Neville 1999)” Yet in a follow-up study, many survivors reported that they had not fully healed after 5 years had passed. Neville’s survey data has also suggested a link between sexual assault history and eating disorders in survivors. Those who hold in their initial anger due to not being able to talk about what had happened or other reasons, experience more severe PTSD symptoms as time progresses away from the incident.

The response to trauma from assault and rape survivors is also often different from veterans with PTSD. In her research, Kolk found that victims rarely suffer from flashbacks like war veterans and instead their symptoms mainly include being unable to be present and calm, being “out of it,” being overwhelmed by rage, and lacking meaningful involvement with their current lives. A large majority of rape survivors suffer from intense psychological reactions directly after the attack, and often lasts for up to three months. Severe symptoms lasting longer than this acute phase is what most diagnose as PTSD. The definition of PTSD has newly changed, the greatest difference is the shift from an anxiety disorder to a new category of trauma. The diagnosis has remained mainly stagnant with symptoms including recurrent, involuntary and intrusive distress memories, avoidance of distressing memories and thoughts, as well as hypervigilance. The change has also redefined what constitutes a traumatic event and has added four new symptoms.

The change in definition has not only allowed more people to be assisted with their struggles, but also has spurred the research community to look deeper into PTSD. It has also made a distinct difference between anxiety disorders that show up after a trauma from those who suffer with flashbacks and physical responses to triggers. To be diagnosed with PTSD, there must be a “gatekeeper”, or initial event that one can trace symptoms back to. If a gatekeeper cannot be found, a patient is often diagnosed with another mental disorder like Clinical Depression or General Anxiety Disorder. One of the goals having to do with reframing the prognosis of PTSD was to spur additional research of the disorder. One difficulty researchers are discovering is due to the vastness of symptoms related to the disorder. One example of this is the modulation of arousal states that vary from individual to individual. Some space out, disappear and feel nothing, suffering from hypoarousal while others suffer from hyperarousal and behave as though their life is in danger. In Kolk’s reflection of her research, she adds, “I have been surprised that something that is so obvious to me is not central in our pursuit of effective treatments: learning to regulate your autonomic arousal system is maybe the single most important prerequisite to dealing with PTSD… How people develop treatment techniques that are based on the premise that you can bypass this issue, and ignore what is going on in the basement, beats me”. In a study done by Bisson and Andrew, they looked at different types of treatments that could possibly shorten the length one suffers from the disorder. They found that without treatment, over a third of individuals reported having PTSD six years after developing it. There was also a 50% chance of remission at two years. Most researched and tested interventions have been trauma-focused behavioral therapy that occurs over 4-12 sessions. This technique was found more helpful than a single-event debriefing, which was actually found to have a negative impact on an individual’s coping of trauma. Much more research is needed before a breakthrough in healing those with PTSD can be obtained.

Society has come a far from victim shaming and stoning women who were raped in the confines of a city, yet it still has a long way to go before it can be titled “just”. Taking assault seriously and researching the effects it has on its victims is a start, but there are many problems left. Some of these problems include the need for a witness to identify a criminal in a lineup, the absurd cost of rape kits and the disordered way they are handled during an investigation. It is due to the patriarchal society that we live in that rape and assault is a commonplace in our learning institutions and impacts more than a majority of the women in said facilities. It must become a norm that sexual violence against anyone, especially young women, is disgusting and unacceptable. Those who commit these violent acts should be seen as pariah, not raised to become prominent figures of our nation. As co-existing members of a dangerous world, we must ask, “how can we change this?”

The Post That Started It All

This is the facebook post that I wrote a few days ago to talk about something important to me. It and it’s responses are what finally urged me to start a page for writing everything I would have anyways. Enjoy:

This is going to be a long post so before I begin, here is the Sparknotes version:
1) The more I grow and experience, the more I’ve realized how backwards society is when it comes to certain topics.
2) In October I was sexually assaulted in my high school parking lot by four guys after a football game.
3) I’m ready to talk about it and use this horrifying event in my life to make a difference.
4) I’m going to ask you for money. And for a share.
Today in my philosophy final, one of the questions asked about objectivism and subjectivism in society. To explain the difference in a very short manner, objectivism says “it is true,” while subjectivism says “it is true for me.” As well as “that is wrong,” versus “that is wrong to me.” I chose to talk about the difference between the two in the court room when sexual assault and rape is being tried. Often it is not “that is wrong no matter the circumstance,” and instead is translated to “what was she wearing?”
Many victims, both male and female, are shamed into thinking they have done wrong or that it is their fault. From this, they then grow silent and learn not to bring it up. That the tragedy they experienced is a taboo for conversation, that people don’t care and don’t have time for things of that nature. This isn’t okay, and I’ve finally hit my breaking point to where I cannot stand to see others hurt the same way I was.
What finally did it for me you ask? A party I went to this weekend with my boyfriend. It was an amazing time, the door was guarded and you were denied entrance without an ugly Christmas sweater on. But once deemed festive enough you entered a house full of fellow band geeks playing Uno, discussing politics, and of course devouring Christmas cookies faster than you could believe. I had a great time meeting new friends, but then noticed something strange. As everyone was having fun, one girl was in the corner of the kitchen sitting against the wall and rocking back and forth. A position I’ve recently become all too familiar with myself. I made eye contact with Danny and made him aware of this situation. Being the most amazing and caring human being I know, he went and sat next to her and tried to calm her down, but I could see her getting more and more agitated. She finally bolted into the bathroom and locked the door and you could hear her sobbing and hyperventilating and it scared me. Danny told me her story, that she had been molested by a fellow band member behind the school last year, and has never been the same since. I sat on the other side of the bathroom door, “please let me in. I know I don’t know you, but I know you and I know it and just please let me help.” She couldn’t even unlock the door herself because she couldn’t control her shaking. Something else I am very familiar with. Her panic attack triggered another person at the party, and it was discovered they had an experience with the same person hurting them. He’s not at their school anymore, but was never expelled for his actions, only suspended. This disgusted me, enraged me, and the fire in my heart that has always wanted to do good and make a change is a fiery furnace now.
Last school year when I finally became strong enough to leave the abusive relationship no one knew about because he forced me into secrecy, no one believed me. I was a liar, a slut, and because I wasn’t held down and raped against my will, it was my fault. I believed this for a long time. It has been a long road, but I now know this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I know it wasn’t my fault, and that was the beginning of my healing.
This time people believed me. They believed me because I did say no, because after I escaped I got back to the band room where the police were called and because video evidence is there. I wasn’t shamed, and I got the help I needed afterwards. Danny, who was just a friend at the time, drove up from Cincinnati at the drop of a hat to spend the weekend with me, my friends showed their support through texts, Mr. Dick called to ask how I was doing. At first I was afraid that I was going to be treated as a liability rather than a human being by the school, but I was taken care of. I had advocates, and our principal was willing to write a letter to the band telling them to be careful because an “incident” had occurred the week prior. I wish more was done, I wish every girl was warned instead of just band members, but I was in no place to fight for that.
I had stopped having panic attacks over the summer after beginning therapy from my previous experience, but this was a whole new world of panic attacks. I was constantly trapped in my head, scared of crowds, of people, of empty parking lots. I began missing classes, and instead laying in the darkness of my room staring at the ceiling. I lost any type of authority in my voice when it came to drum major, if I ever spoke at all. No assignments were ever done, and I dropped the ball on anything I had previously promised other people. Then I got a call from Jami at the YWCA Hope Center. The detective on the assault helped me get connected to resources, and I cannot tell you how thankful I am for that. It was like the wave of everything dark in my life that was hovering over my head threatening to drown my just disappeared. She told me it was okay, everything would be okay, and that it was okay that I wasn’t okay. She helped my talk to my professors, and I was even able to have something not unlike a temporary service dog for PTSD victims to help me go to school until the panic attacks stopped being regular.
I still have a lot to healing to do, but I am someone who cannot sit still and wait for that. I need to do something. I need to help others.
They found the guys who did it, but couldn’t prosecute them because of a blind spot in the school’s surveillance system. They were still interrogated and their school became involved. I hope they realize that doing that to a girl isn’t something they can get away with anymore. I can hope that, but a few weeks after my case was closed; two of my attackers were pegged in another offense against a female in Toledo. She wasn’t as lucky as I was, and when I was told that it really hit home to how lucky I was to be able to get away when I did before the unthinkable happened.
One thing I know that will make a difference is talking about it. Letting people know that I am so willing to talk about it. That it isn’t taboo, and if they went through something like this, they aren’t alone. So I’m starting the conversation. No holds, please, come talk to me.
Another thing that I want to do is give back to the resources that have helped me and are still helping me. One of those organizations is the YWCA, their Hope Center, and their Teen Outreach Programs.
As many of you know, I am a part of Leadership Toledo and their youth philanthropy program, Y.I.P.E.E! which is a group of high school students who raise money to give away to local organizations that help the community. Last year we raised almost $20k to give away, and this year our goal is $25k. This isn’t easy, and we have a lot of different ways of raising the money, but personal asks are our number one source. So consider this me to you, would you be willing to donate to our cause?
If that’s not something that is possible, there are so many other ways you can assist in making the world a better place. Smile, hold open a door for someone, give compliments.
But also start a conversation. I’m done with sexual assault and abuse being taboo. So I’m starting the conversation. Join me by being brave and sharing your story, or even just sharing this post. Just do something, because without action words will never reach their full potential.