By Halie Wingo
Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, according to rainn.org. On average, there are 321,500 victims, age 12 or over, of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. Sexual assault is a major issue nationwide. Many women and men have also recently come forward to tell their “#metoo” stories on Twitter, Instagram and other social media. The #metoo movement started when people started coming forward to tell their stories about being sexually abused, assaulted or harassed.
Both women and men can be assaulted or harassed, but more commonly women become victims, and the statistics are shocking. According to rainn.org, “one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.” Men are also affected by sexual violence with about one out of 33 American men having experienced attempted or completed rape in their lifetime as well.
Counselor Laura Ehringer said she sees and handles different types of harassment in the school. No matter what kind it is, it is serious and not acceptable for any person.
“There’s two different things; there is sexual harassment and there is sexual assault; they’re two different things, both bad. I’ve been here 13 years and I’ve seen and heard many things from young women and young men,” Ehringer said.
When it comes to handling these types of situations, counselors make sure the student is safe and that they are taken care of before they try to completely resolve the issue.
“We like to talk to students, not just to make sure they’re okay, but to make sure if it happens again, how they can handle it,” Ehringer said.
Senior Morgan Cummings had a very unfortunate incident involving sexual assault her freshman year of her high school career. The event involved a young man who she thought she could trust through online communication. She said he seemed fine until he took advantage of her. Cummings lost her self-worth, but she slowly started to feel better and her family helped her through the process.
“I felt like I wasn’t worth people’s love or affection because I was ‘tainted.’ I slowly began to feel okay and my family was a great support system for me. They made me realize just because something bad happened, didn’t mean I wasn’t capable of being loved,” Cummings said.
Cummings decided to tell a friend about what had happened the day after, got help and took legal action against the young man who made her a victim of sexual violence.
“The day after it happened, I told a very close friend of mine and he called the police. I remember the police officer showing up at my house asking if I knew why he was there. He called my parents, my sister showed up and then I was taken to Riley Hospital by IUPUI for an examination at a great place called the Center of Hope,” Cummings said.
There was a trial for the young man who committed these crimes that lasted a little less than a year before he pleaded guilty for the actions towards Cummings and three other young women.
Adult and Child Health employee Arielle Zerger is contracted to the school to help students with issues they may have. Sexual harassment is an issue that may be discussed in a session with Zerger. The person may have trouble telling someone, but there are many resources to report this type of behavior.
“Sexual harassment is something that has a wide variety of presentations. Often asking the person to stop what they are doing can help. Other times, it is important to report this behavior and obtain assistance from someone with more authority if it continues,” Zerger said.
Zerger also works with people to teach them how their actions and words can hurt other people.
“Sexual harassment and assault takes on many forms and can vary from simple statements to rape and other physical assault. I work with some students on the importance of consent and how their words may affect others,” Zerger said.
Many men and women are assaulted or harassed every year in the U.S. and it can be difficult with all of the questions and accusations to explain what happened. It is extremely important to express to every person that people should be held accountable for their actions and these actions should not be written off as “how things are.” To get help, anyone can call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to connect with a trained staff member from a provider in your area for confidential support, help finding a health facility to care for you and talk through what happened.