Breaking the Silence of Sexual Assault at IUP

Indiana University of Pennsylvania students gathered on campus for an April 7 Take Back the Night march against sexual assault. Photos by Alyssa Choiniere

Indiana University of Pennsylvania students gathered on campus for an April 7 Take Back the Night march against sexual assault. Photos by Alyssa Choiniere

By Alyssa Choiniere


INDIANA – A student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, now age 25, recently recalled the night of her best friend’s wedding in 2004. That was the night she was raped by her ex-fiance, she said.


Sara Johnson – not her real name – said her ex-fiance broke up with her at the wedding. The two earlier had booked a hotel room, so she said they had to spend the night together, in a room with two beds.


When they checked into the room, her ex started drinking. She said he came over to the bed and tried “messing around” with her. She told him no.

He didn’t stop.

“He fisted me, even though I begged him to stop and was crying, and proceeded to rape me,” she said.


“He said he loved me.”


Blood was everywhere, she said, She called the hotel staff to help her. She told them the blood came from a cut while shaving.


“I called my friend and asked her to come get me,” Johnson said. “She said, ‘He just raped you.’ And I said, ‘No, not really.'”


Since then, her mind has changed.


“Rape is one of those words that, when I hear it, I think, ‘No, not me,” Johnson said. “I’m not, by any means, a bad-ass. But I’m not weak either. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether you can or can’t protect yourself.”


She said she confronted her ex last summer and asked him if he thought he did anything wrong. He replied that he considered sex with her to be his right.


“He pretended that it was just something you do when you break up,” she said. “He didn’t understand why I wouldn’t talk to him. He didn’t understand why I was mad at him.”


The ex still has not realized that a rape occurred after the wedding in 2004, she said. It was five years before Johnson realized he raped her.           


Surviving through Counseling


Men who rape are in denial about their behavior, and women often do not recognize that a crime has occurred, according to Mary F. Valenzano, a victim advocate at the Alice Paul House  in Indiana, Pa. She spoke in her office on March 30. The House is a shelter that provides counseling for survivors (“I don’t like the word victim,” she said) of sexual violence in Indiana, Pa.


Valenzano works closely with IUP students. Her services include supporting survivors, providing support for police interviews and preparing protection-from-abuse orders in domestic-violence cases.


The House is funded by grants through the U.S. Department of Justice. Because it is a shelter, its location is confidential.


In the past year, Valenzano said she has advocated for as many as 20 women who survived domestic violence both on and off campus. This number does not include calls to the House’s 24-hour-hotline. She said the number of these calls is increasing.


“They might want to talk to someone at 4:00 in the morning because they had a nightmare about what happened to them,” Valenzano said.


She said women often are deterred from reporting the crime.


“A victim is put under the microscope,” she said. “To report a crime, victim-blaming comes into play an awful lot.”


She said people will ask such questions as, “Why was she wearing that?” or, “Why was she walking alone at night?” and, “Why was she studying with him alone?” She said a woman should be able to do all these things without getting raped.


Surviving the Criminal Justice System


Ideally, says Valenzano, a rape investigation begins at the hospital. The hospital examination takes hours and is very uncomfortable, she said. Medical staff  take the patient’s clothes, hair and nail clippings, and then perform a gynecological exam. The police conduct an interview and take a statement.


“The questions that are asked are very intrusive,” Valenzano said.


Questions continue in court. If a case is officially opened and it goes to a preliminary hearing, a district judge will determine whether sufficient evidence exists to send the case to court. At the hearing, the victim may testify and will be cross-examined.


Valenzano said that cases rarely make it to trial. She said defendants often use one of two defenses – that the sex was consensual, or that there was no sex.


In the case of injury, defense attorneys often will say the victim preferred rough sex.


When a rape or sexual assault is committed at IUP, the charge is processed through the IUP judicial system, not the criminal justice system, according to Theodore M. “Tedd” Cogar, assistant director of student conduct at the Center for Student Life.


The IUP judicial system has three tiers, Cogar said — an informal resolution conference, an administrative hearing and a judicial board.   The most serious cases, like rape, go directly to the judicial board. The board consists of three faculty members and three students.


Cogar said the hearing involves the board questioning the defendants, accuser and witnesses. The board’s training includes ways to ask questions. The Haven Project assists in this training.


He said defendants are not declared “guilty” or “not guilty,” but “in violation” or “not in violation” of the student behavior regulations. Some of the most severe penalties for rape are suspension and expulsion.


Only 6 percent of rapists will ever spend a day in jail, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, an anti-sexual-assault charity funded through donations that features a flock of Hollywood movie stars on its Web site.


Malinda Cowles, assistant director of Health AWAREness at Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Malinda Cowles, assistant director of Health AWAREness at Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Rape is the most under-reported crime because the trial process is tedious and punishing, according to Malinda M. Levis Cowles, associate director of the IUP Center for Health and Well-Being.  Cowles said many who pursue a trial give up because the process may take a year or longer.


“It’s not something you forget, or that goes away,” she said in her office on March 23.


The Haven Project, a center for education and prevention of sexual assault, is a part of Health AWAREness. The Project provides support for victims and works closely with the Alice Paul House . It is grant-funded and conducts surveys on sexual assault that contradict the statistics supported by the IUP Trendbook, based on the FBI Uniform Crime Reports.          


The Trendbook indicates that sexual offenses have decreased  in recent years — from 14 in 1995 to 4 in 2005. Cowles expressed surprise at the numbers.

“Really?” she asked. “It says that?”

Her own statistics tell her that 17 to 19 percent of women at IUP were sexually assaulted in 2008, based on a survey. Of IUP’s 8,197 female students, between 1,394 and 1,557 were sexually assaulted, Cowles concluded. And nearly 90 percent of these involved alcohol, she said.


‘Her own statistics tell her that 17 to 19 percent of women at IUP were sexually assaulted in 2008, based on a survey.’


“For most of what we see, the rapes would have happened whether or not alcohol was involved,” she said. “If someone is thinking they’re going to have sex with someone no matter what, alcohol makes that easier.”

Take Back the Night — A Survivor’s Story

“A lot of times, women don’t recognize what happened as sexual assault,” said Cowles. “Just that they had sex when they didn’t want to have sex.”

For this reason, the Haven Project provides education to both men and women on how to prevent rape. It hosts meetings at orientation for freshman, separating the men from the women.

One of the ways the Haven Project combats victim-blaming is with “Take Back the Night,” a march for awareness of sexual violence and a speak-out for survivors to commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.

On April 7, 491 people gathered behind the Grant Street suites at IUP with candles. About 15 percent of the group was men. One male student held a sign saying “Men are survivors, too.”

One of every 33 men is sexually assaulted, and one in six of those is assaulted before the age of 18, according to RAINN.

The April 7 IUP  march began with a moment of silence for victims, but students were not quiet for long. They marched from Grant Street, down Philadelphia Street, and to the Hadley Union Building shouting “1-2-3-4. This is what we’re fighting for. 5-6-7-8. No more violence, no more rape.”

Pedestrians, both men and women, joined in the march as students passed. Motorists honked in support.

At the HUB, the speak-out began. Men and women spoke. One student said she didn’t realize she’d been raped until that night.

Audience members shouted encouragement to the speakers.

“It’s OK, baby girl. Your strength is here,” said a man when a woman forgot her name as she took the stage. After one especially traumatic story, a woman shouted, “Look at you now, though!”

The speak-out was opened by a professor and author from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Laurie Cannady, an IUP alumna.

“I am awesome. I’ve got it going on,” she said to a crowd of cheering students. “But I wasn’t always that way.”

She recounted the day of her son’s birth. Her ex came to her with flowers just before the delivery. “I’m gonna be a daddy,” she said he told her.

Later, her son, Derek, was born prematurely.

“That was the first day he ever put his hands on me and threatened to throw me out of a 17-story-building,” Cannady said.

She was walking up the stairs with the baby when he hit her across the head with a bucket, Cannady said.

He said, “Put the baby down, or I’ll hit you with the baby in your hands,” so she put the baby down while he beat her, Cannady recounted.

The abuse continued. Once, he wrapped an extension cord around her neck until she passed out. He poured cold water on her to wake her, and when that didn’t work, he poured hot water on her. When that didn’t work either, he raped her and left.

She said that it took her two years to leave the man, because she had to learn to love and respect herself before anyone else could.

Cannady said that women in the same situation may stay with the man because he apologizes and says he loves her. She said the women need to realize how strong they really are.

“We have to acknowledge our own greatness,” she said. “When others won’t acknowledge it, tell them to move out of the way.”

Cannaday is re-married with a family and successful career, she said. Her husband, whom she called her saving grace, looked on from the front row.

“I don’t want you to look at me and be sad,” she said to the audience, “because I love who I am.

Because we are taking back the night.”

Alyssa Choiniere, a junior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Gibsonia, Pa.


Sidebar: Fast Facts

Someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the United States, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network .  Survivors are three times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide than if the assault had never occurred, RAINN reports.

A 2002 study, titled “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists,” reported that 120 of 1,822 men, or 7 percent, admitted to acts of rape or attempted rape. Many of these were repeat rapists, who averaged 5.8 rapes each.

The study was conducted by David Lisak of the University of Massachusetts. It also reported that between 64 and 96 percent of rapes are never reported, and few reported cases result in successful prosecution.

The study participants were selected from a diverse, mid-sized, urban commuter university. More than 20 percent were over 30-years-old, and approximately 8 percent were over 40. 66.3 percent were white. Four samples were conducted between 1991 and 1998, and the largest three samples represented 10 to 12 percent of the student populace.

Source: The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network; Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Rapists


Sidebar: For more info

For more information about this story, contact the following sources:

Malinda Cowles
Associate director
The Haven Project
Suites on Maple East
Suite G-59
901 Maple Street
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone:  724-357-4799

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)
2000 L Street NW, Suite 406
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-544-1034

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