Rape victims at SDSU: come forward

by Stacey Oparnica

Artwork courtesy of staff artist Rob Piper
Artwork courtesy of staff artist Rob Piper

Let me introduce you to Nora.* At first glance, she appears to be your normal, everyday student. Her bag is full of books, her mind adrift with thoughts of midterms and weekend plans. She is articulate, ambitious and bright. She’s not that different from you — except for one thing. She’s a rape victim.

If you read the News section today, you might come across the remarkable and truly touching story of Nora, a former San Diego State student who was raped and beaten during her junior year by her then-boyfriend. I had the privilege of speaking with this extraordinary young woman who relentlessly battled the perils of the California State University judicial system in an effort to uphold justice for the crimes committed against her.

It is extremely disheartening to know that you and others reading this column may be able to relate to Nora’s story. Data provided by the SDSU Police Department reveal 47 rapes from 2007 – 2010. This may seem like a relatively small number in comparison to the 29,866 students enrolled at SDSU. However, when you consider roughly 95 percent of victims do not report incidents of sexual assault to authorities, it can be estimated that the number of assaults is actually closer to 940, accounting for an average of 20 incidents per month.

What is SDSU doing about this? Not much. When I look around campus, I don’t see any school-sponsored booths, posters or statistics raising awareness about sexual assault. When I lived in the residence halls, I remember constantly seeing updated notifications of criminal activity taped to the door, alerting students of recent rapes or robberies around the area.

Why don’t we have these crime tabs all around campus? If wasting paper is an issue, then include these updates in the SDSU student newsletter and send a mass e-mail to everyone. Set up a booth in the middle of Aztec Center promoting the Rape Aggression Defense Program so students will at least know what it is and where to go to utilize this free resource. Create an SDSU crime alert Twitter account. Any of these options are easily achievable, and at this point, there is no excuse.

The absence of these public service announcements, or any discussion at all, creates an illusion that sexual assault is virtually nonexistent at SDSU, when this is not the case. Unfortunately, student victims voiced another aggravating concern.

“There is no separated policy for such sensitive issues like sexual assault and domestic violence,” Nora said, regarding the SDSU Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities and the SDSU Police Department for not having a special division dedicated solely to sex crimes.

“We do a bunch of different things,” Lee Mintz, an SDSU judicial officer for CSRR, said. “Obviously one of the main things that we do is we adjudicate violations of the code of conduct, whether that’s coming from the classroom to cheating and plagiarism, residence halls, theft from the bookstore or convenient store or any sort of referrals from the police.”

Why is sexual assault simply being thrown into the pot of code violations when its significance clearly tramples that of stolen textbooks? After a little poking around, I discovered that SDSU Counseling and Psychological Services doesn’t have a special therapist or program for sex crimes either, which begs the question of whether or not anyone on this campus is specially trained to deal with such a delicate issue.

For those who have never been a victim of sexual assault such as myself, it is impossible to imagine the humiliation, vulnerability and degradation associated with being sexually violated. Feelings of fear, shame and embarrassment often prevent victims from ever stepping forward. Therefore, when they do find the courage to file charges, is it so much to ask that we have a specially trained officer, therapist or counselor with experience in this field to speak with them?

In addition to these harrowing issues, the judicial system presents another detrimental setback: timeliness, or lack thereof. In Nora’s case, the SDSU police department took more than seven months to issue her a copy of her police report and photographs of her injuries. The lack of punctuality continued until the end of her hearing, when a decision was supposed to have been made within 15 days, according to the CSU Student Conduct Procedures, by the Executive Order. It took more than a month for Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. James Kitchen to notify her about a decision. That was after she sent a written statement holding him personally accountable, when she became tired of the system waving her emotional distress.

After learning her rapist was going to be expelled, it was made very clear to her that she was not permitted to discuss the decision with anyone. For this reason, she was forced to remain silent about the result of one of the most devastating experiences of her life. This is absolutely unacceptable. Everything about this case shows a disgusting lack of respect for her, and her repeated requests for this hellish nightmare to be dealt with in a timely manner. Victims of sexual assault have lived through a devastating experience and are forced to live with the effects. SDSU, take responsibility for the welfare of the student body.

If you have been the victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, seek out the Survivor Outreach and Support organization on campus at sdsuSOS@gmail.com

— Stacey Oparnica is a journalism sophomore.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.

—*Name changed to protect the privacy of those involved.