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Just get over it, Part II: "I would've just gone to the police"

The second part of Sara Chittenden's story. GVSU is still under investigation and nothing has happened.
Sara Chittenden on Target 8

Sara Chittenden on Target 8 /Drew Damron

It's coming up on a year since the Department of Education began investigating Grand Valley State University for their failure to uphold Title IX. It's also been about four months since part one of this story ran. This second part will focus on analyzing how we respond to the testimony of rape victims in the media.

Overwhelmingly so, the most common response to the articles and videos about Sara Chittenden is: I would've gone to the police. Take a look at the comments on Wood 8's coverage of Sara, the other Wood 8 article, the article about her in The Lanthorn (GVSU's student paper), the comments on the first part of The Rapidian story and all of the comments on the facebook posts made by these organizations sharing those articles. Chittenden read every single comment because the comments through Facebook and other sites often include a photo and name. She wanted to know who was saying terrible things so she could recognize them in our city. Try putting yourself in her shoes and read each comment. 

Before this is analyzed, it is important to reiterate a few things.

1) The offender was found guilty, by Grand Valley State University, of sexually assaulting one of their students. The campus responded by assigning him a three page paper.

2) The first thing suggested to her by Theresa Rowland (victim advocate at the time now head of Title IX at GVSU) was to go to the Ottawa County Courthouse to acquire a Personal Protection Order against the rapist. Chittenden went that day and the judge did not grant her the PPO. He said he would consider it if Chittenden and the rapist appeared in court together. Chittenden wanted the PPO so that she wouldn't have to tolerate being in the same space as the man who raped her, so she decided not to pursue the PPO.

According to RAINN: Out of every 100 rapes, only 32 are reported to the police, seven of these lead to an arrest, three are referred to prosecutors, two lead to a felony conviction and two rapists will spend a single day in prison. The other 98 will walk free.

So what kind of a personal response to Chittenden's story is this? Do people appreciate it when others respond to their misfortune with advice about what they should've done to avoid it? One of the first things that Chittenden did is go to the police for help, fully knowing the statistics mentioned above- and she was not surprised by the outcome.  

It is also important to note that Sara Chittenden's story is one concerning students being raped on campus and the failure of their school to do anything about it. Spending the energy debating how and why she should have gone to the police is derailing the conversation by providing useless solutions. What reasons prompt someone to feel the need to say "I would have gone to the police" or "she should have gone to the police?" Chittenden's story isn't being told because she wants others to tell her what she should've done. Like the "you are so strong" comment that was looked at in the first part of this story, it too reinforces the notion that she is the sole person responsible to bring about the justice she is seeking.

Our society, and most individuals, do not know how to be supportive of rape victims, so perhaps by analyzing the way we respond to their testimonies, we can learn how to be more supportive of them. This is my intention behind writing these articles.

An update:

Sara Chittenden still has not been contacted by any GVSU staff. Since last year, she has been contacted from the Department of Education occasionally. The only person from the public who has meaningfully contacted her is a very empathetic student from Rockford High School. There have been community forums and events concerning campus rape and rape culture, yet Chittenden has not been asked to participate even though she offers the personal perspective typically sought after for community forums. She is most likely the reason these conversations are taking place in our community right now- so why isn't she being included?  

Chittenden says that this is a bit of a blessing and a curse. She has put her story out there to give this issue a face with hopes of guiding this discussion about something that has deeply affected her. Typically the public forums concerning rape and rape culture are held by academics and/or allies and advocates, not survivors of rape. It is uncomfortable for her to think that her story is potentially being brought up and disseminated without being present in that discussion. However, the more her name becomes attached to this issue, the more likely she is to face harrassment in public and online, and face difficulties with finding employment. Does she put up with these discussions happening around her, regarding her, without including her? Or does she just quietly withdraw, feeling as though her story wasn't worth sharing at all? Why does she have to face these choices?

Despite the fatigue, Chittenden has just completed a zine covering what she has learned through this experience with the hope that it will be helpful for others who are in a similar situation. It will soon be sold through a few notable zine distributors because her perspective is needed.

"[It is] a zine from my perspective as a self identified rape victim. I talk about the victim-survivor dichotomy, entitlement, my bisexuality and how it feels to report sexual assault to a college," she says. "I reported my college for failing to uphold Title IX and went public with my story of college rape and the failure of my college to respond properly. This also touches on my experience dealing with local news. Trigger warning on the whole zine." Purchase it from her etsy shop here.

Disclosure: The author is Sara Chittenden's partner.

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