"It was a Friday night of my freshman year, and I was sleeping over at a girlfriend’s house. We decided to walk two blocks down the street to a local pizza place everyone hung out at. We stayed for a while, then started walking back to her house. A car pulled up alongside us and two senior boys asked us if we wanted a ride. It was late and snowing out and they were really well known throughout our school. So we were flattered, and we accepted,” a Lewis Center parent said. For the sake of maintaining her family’s privacy, the source wished to remain anonymous.
“They had me get in the back, and my friend set up front. Instead of going to her house, they asked us if we wanted to ride around through town first. They went to a back road and pulled over ‘to show us something’. It was a two- door car with bucket seats, so my friend got out and was trying to put the seat forward for me when the guy next to me in the back leaned forward, shoved her backwards, pulled the door shut and locked it. Then, he raped me.”
This incident occurred in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1983 when the anonymous parent was 14 at the time. Currently 48, the incident has remained with her until now.
“You feel like there’s always something you could do if were in that situation. I thought that way, too. But when it’s happening, that person is stronger than you. You’re completely helpless to stop them from doing something so disgusting and hurtful to you no matter how hard you fight. It takes something away from you that never comes back,” the rape victim said.
For some people, the idea of rape is a distant fear. Many assume it won’t happen to them or that they’ll be able to get themselves out of situations where it may happen. But for a local parent and thousands of
others, the experience is all too real.
“I remember my face smashed against the window and crying for my friend. She was being held by his friend about 10 feet away though and couldn’t do anything,” the victim said. “He finished, told me to get dressed, unlocked the door and yelled ‘let’s go’ to his friend. No one said anything until he pulled up on a side street and told us to get out. He then said that we better not say a word. Then, they took off.”
According to the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. On average, there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.
“When we got home, I told my mom. She said we should report it, but I was tired and scared. This guy was the best basketball player on the team and was someone everyone knew and liked. My friend told me she wouldn’t get involved and would say she didn’t see anything if she was to be asked. I was embarrassed, ashamed and scared; no one would believe me, so I didn’t report him,” the victim said.
Although sexual assault is typically a one-time thing, the impacts of it stays with people for much longer. 13 percent of women who are raped attempt suicide and about 70 percent of rape or sexual assault victims experience distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime, according to the RAINN website.
“I thought if I pretended it never happened, I’d eventually forget it. I became depressed, guarded and careful. I never really felt safe again. I assumed there’d be signs that would warn me I was in danger before something happened, but there wasn’t. It showed me that everything I thought I knew was wrong. I lost
my faith in people. I’m still always very careful and aware of my surroundings. My guard is never down,” the victim said.
A rapist is defined by legalmatch.com as “a person who engages in an act of intercourse against the will of the victim, accomplished by force, violence, duress, menace or fear of bodily injury.”
According to health and physical education teacher Ginger Frye, sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the consent of the recipient.
“Sexual assault is an umbrella term that includes sexual activities such as rape, fondling and attempted rape. Three areas of sexual assault are penetration, contact and exposure,” Frye said.
According to healthresearchfunding.org, 30 percent of adult rape cases were committed by husbands, common-law partners or boyfriends.
“Yes (rape can occur in marriages). Just because a couple is married does not mean that consent is not needed. Everyone has the right to say no whenever they choose,” Frye said.
However, sexual assault doesn’t just occur between strangers or with in relationships, children are often affected.
John Fitch is an attorney at the John Fitch Law Firm who works for people in civil cases who have been victims of sexual assault and has first-hand experience with the results of accountability.
“Getting some measure of accountability and fighting back helps victims in the healing process. I’m not sure if anyone fully recovers from sexual assault, but I know what I do helps them in the process. I take comfort in that,” Fitch said.
The work is often hard on Fitch. It’s difficult to hear witnesses and victims go through what happened to them. He said it makes him more aware of what’s around him.
“For the criminal system, penalties for the accused rapist increases if the victim is a minor,” Fitch said.
Every eight minutes, child protective services finds evidence for a claim of child sexual abuse. From 2009 to 2013, Child Protective Services agencies found strong evidence to indicate that 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse, according to RAINN.
Drama teacher Cathy Swain-Abrams experienced both emotional and physical abuse in her youth at the hands of a family member and has coped with the experiences ever since.
“When I was a young girl, my mom got remarried and, for a long time, my stepfather molested me. It happened off and on until I was 19, when I put an end to it. After a while, my mom became aware of it and tried to control the situation within the family, because it had happened to her and she didn’t want the shame of the secret getting out.
“It would stop for a while, and he would be remorseful, but eventually it would start back up again. Even when he wasn’t being physically abusive, he was being emotionally abusive, yelling at me and forcing me to do whatever he wanted,” Swain- Abrams said.
In high school, there are still many types of abuse when it comes to dating relationships. Physical, emotional and even neglect are all different forms of abuse, according to school psychologist Cari Tyler. These types of harmful relationships take place in high schools all over, but many incidents are not reported.
“I think there are definitely reported abusive relationships, and we’ve definitely had some that I know of just through hearing things from staff,” Tyler said.
Not only do teachers overhear conversations in the hallways, but Deputy Robert Martin reported that he witnesses five to eight cases a year as the school’s resource officer.
“It’s usually one of the parties being disrespected. Either a female is disrespecting a male, [but] more than likely a male is disrespecting a female,” Martin said.
Tyler also reported that it is important for staff to know the signs of abusive relationships in high school and interactions between students.
“I think physical marks are the first thing I would, obviously, look for. [Then] being withdrawn from events, social situations and friends. A lot of times there is a control situation, even a change of personality. If a person is depressed or unhappy and not doing some of the activities that they would normally participate in, it could be a sign,” Tyler said.
Tyler’s psychology intern Amanda Layman gave her input on signs of abusive relationships as well.
“Lack of self confidence, I would say, is a signal that could be given off,” Layman said.
Though emotional manipulation, physical and sexual abuse are parts of relationship abuse, it also has different facets. One of these is infidelity, which is becoming increasingly more common.
According to the Wall Street Journal, approximately 20 percent of marriages of people under 30 will be affected by cheating, compared to an estimated 12 percent of that same demographic from 15 years earlier.
Junior Taylor Metzler was cheated on during a long- term high school relationship and said that while she was unaware it was happening, the lying affected the relationship before it ended.
“When I heard, it made sense, but it was crushing to find out. My friend told me in class, and as soon as she told me, I felt my heart shrink in my chest,” Metzler said. “I felt dumb, like there was some way I should have known.”
Being cheated on affected Metzler’s approach to dating afterward. Even though she’d moved on, it had a noticeable impact on the start of her current relationship.
“I’m in a relationship now, but when I was getting into it, I was very skeptical. It took me a long time to trust him. I didn’t want to let him in too fast because of what happened to me before,” Metzler said.
Cheating has become normalized in today’s society and, according to Metzler, this means people are losing value in their relationships.
“Cheating isn’t taken as seriously nowadays; the mentality is sort of that everybody cheats. But that shouldn’t be happening. It seems like we’re losing sight of what should and shouldn’t be OK in a relationship and that’s incredibly unhealthy,” Metzler said.
Remaining in toxic situations can often have lasting effects as well. An anonymous senior was in a relationship where she was emotionally manipulated by her partner and was pressured into an unwanted physical relationship.
“He had isolated me from my friends and made me think that our relationship was the only important thing. Because I started to believe that lie, it was easy to give in to things I wasn’t comfortable with,” the anonymous senior said. “I just wanted to feel loved and if giving myself away to him was how I would get that feeling, I did it.”
She was constantly shamed by the people around her for not standing up for herself. People often would ask her why she didn’t just say no, but there is a lack of understanding as to why someone in that situation would stay.
“I wanted to love him because I thought that would make him love me back. Opening my heart to him allowed access to parts of me that I never thought could be betrayed by someone who ‘loved’ me,” the anonymous senior said. “I felt trapped; since I had given him everything, there was no way out without losing it.”
In many cases of dating violence, the victim stays in the relationship even though they’re suffering from abuse. The reason and logic behind this decision is oftentimes unclear to outsiders.
“Most people who are being abused either don’t recognize the abuse for themselves or, even if they do, they find it difficult to leave. Many of them also believe that the abuser truly loves them and, many times, the person getting abused feels love towards the abuser,” health teacher Matthew Lattig said.
Oftentimes, it easier for outsiders to recognize abuse. Victims may not be aware of the mistreatment, causing them to stay in the relationship.
“They may believe it get will get better or they may have been so separated from their support people that they have nowhere to go for help or the money to leave,” Lattig said.
Abuse in any relationship is a very serious issue and should be addressed as such. Anna Smith from Relationships Under Construction offered some insight on the topic.
“Many people who are getting abused also believe that they can change the abuser if they stay. This, however, is never true. Abuse is a pattern. Abuse repeats itself over and over and over again until either the abused or the abuser makes a decision,” Smith said. “It’s important to understand that things will not get better, things will not change and that there will always be a repeat. In fact, things usually get worse over time. If the abuser really wanted to change, they would need to get professional help to get better.”
Escaping an abusive relationship takes support as well as strength and it is usually hard to let go of a relationship, abusive or not.
“I think when you are so attached to somebody and you’re so emotionally involved, it makes it hard to see the bad sides of a relationship sometimes and you don’t want to see the bad,” Layman said.
The reason behind an individual abusing others can appear to be very ambiguous as well. There are multiple reasons why a person could eventually become abusive in relationships.
“Abuse is a learned behavior. This means that most abusers have been abused themselves. The abuse can be emotional, physical, financial, spiritual or sexual in nature. The interesting thing is, in many cases, an abuser might not even recognize that they are an abuser. Many of them have grown up surrounded by some type of abusive behavior. In those cases, the abuser thinks that those types of behaviors are normal or healthy. They don’t know any differently,” Smith said.