“You can’t not talk about it”

The tears came easy. Even before she got into the intimate details of her sexual assault, Katie took a deep breath and let the tears flow. 

It has been two-and-a-half years since Katie was assaulted by a friend of hers. Katie, who only will be identified by her first name, still thinks about it on a daily basis. 

She hasn’t let it hold her back but, instead, empowers herself and others around her. 

“I want other girls to know that it’s okay,” Katie said. “It happens so often. People deserve to know. You deserve the attention to help you heal.”

Katie had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to attending college in the next few months. 

She didn’t expect one of her good friends to assault her. Katie and her friend, who is male, were sitting in a car outside of his house. 

He asked her to come inside, but she refused. He kept trying to convince her to come inside and just hang out or have a drink. 

“I said I was not going to go inside,” Katie said. “I was not into it.”

Eventually he coaxed her into coming inside. They continued to talk and everything was as it usually was: two friends just hanging out. 

He started to touch her. She again told him no, even saying she would not have sex with him. But he kept going. 

Katie stopped there. With tears in her eyes, she ended her story, not attempting to go into any more details. 

After a few moments of silence, Katie talked about how her experience has affected her life — positively and negatively. 

“You can’t not talk about it,” she said. “It affects everything you go through. It affects every relationship you encounter. Every time you openly decide to love someone, you think about it.” 

At the time the assault took place, she wasn’t fully aware that it was a sexual assault. It wasn’t until her sophomore year of college at South Dakota State University that she finally realized what the assault was. 

Now, she understands that no means no. 

Sexual assault is a very broad term according to Michelle Johnson, the Title IX coordinator on campus. It’s also a term that many people immediately associate with rape, but it’s much more than that. 

“It is unwanted sexual contact and it can be of any nature. It can be somebody walking down the hall and another person swatting them on the butt. It can be touching private areas that individuals didn’t want or welcome,” Johnson said. 

Another misunderstood term when it comes to sexual assault is consent. Johnson said she wants students to clearly understand that when alcohol or drugs are involved, the individual cannot consent to sexual activity. 

“Even if they say yes, that is not consent. It can still be considered as a sexual assault,” she said. 

Johnson guesses that 90 to 95 percent of all sexual assault cases she has seen have involved alcohol in some manner or another. 

While there was no alcohol involved in Katie’s situation, both Johnson and Darci Nichols have seen alcohol play a role in many incidents. 

Nichols is the head of the Counseling Center at SDSU, which employs six full-time counselors. This service is free for students. All employees at SDSU are required to report any allegations to the Title IX office. The counselors, however, are the only employees exempt from this rule. 

For sexual assault victims, the Counseling Center can be a helpful resource. According to Nichols, counseling can help victims work towards rebuilding their future. 

“There is fear associated with being a victim of assault. If you knew you’re assailant, you trusted somebody who took advantage of you,” Nichols said. “Sometimes people take on a lot of that guilt or shame, so counseling can help victims work through those.”  

From Katie’s viewpoint as a victim, she believes that all victims should talk about it with someone, whether it be a counselor, friend or family member. 

And when it comes to reporting, she wants other victims to consider what they are doing. 

“If you’re going to report this, be sure of what it is,” she said. “Don’t take it lightly. It is very underreported, but it’s not something to be tossed around. It is not for people to use to blame or use as an excuse.”

For the past two-and-a-half years she has talked about her own experience with many people, including others who have gone through similar experiences. For her, it was healing. 

“It took me a long time to get through this,” Katie said. “If anything, it has made me more of a human being.”