[1]When Mary was a freshman, she did what many students do during finals week – she studied in the Main Library late into the night.
Around 3 a.m., Mary finally decided to head back home to Case Hall, and she took the dimly-lit path behind the library.
Groggy from her cram session, she was startled when someone grabbed her from behind, but the surprise didn’t stop there.
He raped her.
“I didn’t even see where he came from,” said Mary, who is now a senior. “The worst part about it was that someone walked by while [he was assaulting me] and didn’t do anything.”
Mary went to the police station the next day, and the officers took her to Olin Health Center. The police never found her assailant.
Mary didn’t tell anyone for two months and covered up her depression to her friends and family. She developed mono after the incident and spent most of her time sleeping. She finally broke down and told her parents when, typically a good student, she began performing poorly in a summer semester class.
Mary said she went to therapy to cope with her emotional stress and her feelings of blame and guilt toward herself for walking alone. Now she directs some of her anger toward her assailant, but mostly toward the university because they never responded to her letters about streetlights and other issues. “Hating the guy is a lost cause and a waste of energy, because they will never find him and I will never see him again,” Mary said.
She’s had a panic disorder since the incident, and Mary said can still be jumpy and anxious, especially when approached from behind. Mary said she tries not to walk alone, and moving off-campus has really helped. She said she did have nightmares and still gets flashbacks. She also said having a supportive boyfriend at the time and for some time after really helped her.
“My advice for victims would be talking about it, because keeping it in was so much worse,” Mary said. “Telling someone from therapy made me realize it’s really healthy to talk about what happened. Journaling is also good.”
Mary wanted to share her story because she believes sexual assault is an important topic that is frequently glossed over by the university. Mary said it is important to stand up for your rights. She took a self-defense class, which she said was very empowering, and then taught one.
Mary said no one’s story of assault is exactly the same, and when it happens, different people react in different ways. When she hears stories about a woman who passed out after drinking too much and got raped, she gets angry.
“I understand it’s majority [cases when drinking is involved], but rape is never justified,” she said. “You don’t take advantage of someone.”
A junior at MSU, who wishes to remain anonymous, will be forever changed by what happened during her freshman year as well. She was at her ex-boyfriend’s friend’s house with some mutual friends, and they started to play drinking games. She made herself two mixed drinks, and when she sat down with her second drink, she blacked out. She later woke up naked next to her ex-boyfriend in a room she’d never seen before.
“I was so upset because he knew I was a virgin and that I had told him before that I didn’t want to have sex with him,” she said. “We only went out for a couple months because he was controlling, and then we just started hanging out in the summer again. I was so embarrassed and ashamed that I ran out of the house as fast as I could. Later, I am sure that he must have slipped me something because I know my limit and it is more than two drinks. I didn’t return his phone calls and haven’t talked to him since. I felt like it was my fault since I knew him and we had dated. I couldn’t believe the people I thought I was friends with let it happen.”
Another junior at MSU, who wishes to remain anonymous, was at a fraternity house with her boyfriend last year. She said she had been drinking and decided to spend the night at the house, rather than walk home. Her boyfriend left her in his friend’s room and assumed she would be fine since everyone knew she was his girlfriend.
“I woke up to my boyfriend’s friend unbuttoning my pants. I told him ‘NO’ and tried to shove him off me,” she said. “He leaned in and tried to kiss me and told me I had to because it was his birthday and I was at his party. Someone came in right then and he got off me and I crouched in the corner crying. When my boyfriend came in, I was embarrassed and didn’t want to tell him who did it. I told another brother in the house and he was kicked out. I knew it could have been a lot worse but now I don’t even trust the people I know.”
Shari Murgittroyd, the program coordinator for the MSU Sexual Assault Crisis and Safety Education Program, said rape is the most common violent crime on campus, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Publications.
Other shocking stats Murgittroyd offered are that one in four college women are victims of rape or attempted rape, and alcohol is the number one drug involved in rape cases. She also said to be aware of the circulating myths. For example, rapes don’t happen only at frat parties. Friends will assault you – the majority of victims know their attacker.
“The facts are important,” Murgittroyd said. “The majority of sexual assaults take place in the dorm or at home. [Attackers] appear as nice guys and are very likeable, but they have a plan. [They are] very unsuspecting and are the friends you hang out with. Acquaintance rape is actually what is out there. Date rape does happen, but often victims ‘know’ their attackers in the sense that it could be a friend of a friend. I don’t want women thinking that all their friends are rapists, but someone who seems like a ‘friend’ could definitely be a threat.”
Nicolle Stec, health educator at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Olin Health Center, advises that students make sure to get consent every step of the way when having any kind of sexual experience with someone. Alcohol is not consent; when someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs they cannot legally give consent.
She added, “You can’t control other people, but you can control yourself. Know what you’re drinking and where it came from. Avoid open containers and punch bowls with unknown contents, even if it’s free. Know your limits. If you experienced a sexual assault, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.”
Stec said 3 percent of MSU students reported being threatened for sex against their will and approximately 10 cases of sexual assault are reported every year, but it is also extremely under-reported.
In 2003 there were twelve rapes reported in residence halls and eight off-campus, according to the MSU police Web site.
Murgittroyd said her advice for incoming students on campus comes from her experience working with other students and hearing what they wish they would have done. “Trust your instincts,” she said. “If the situation doesn’t feel right, get out.” She also said to be aware that date rape is out there. “Don’t abandon your friends and let them know where you are at at all times.”
Sgt. Florene McGlothian-Taylor of the MSU Department of Police and Public Safety agreed that your friends can help keep you safe. “It is important that when individuals go out to party, whether they go to a bar, sorority or fraternity, they need to return with the same group of friends,” said Taylor. “They need to be observant and watch out for each other. They shouldn’t accept drinks in case someone might slip something into it.”
Stec said to make sure students remember MSU is part of a city, just like any other city. “There are different people every year, changing the vibe on campus. Take the same precautions you would as you explore a new place.”
Murgittroyd said that the MSU Sexual Assault Crisis and Safety Education Program will be providing more education and resources to students in response to last year’s sexual assaults. They have created a Take 5 Tool Kit that will be given to incoming freshmen at residence hall meetings and there is a new interactive theater group this year, Every 5 Minutes, which will be performing skits to educate and impact sexual assault awareness on campus. This is also the program’s 25th anniversary and they will be holding a film festival and art exhibit to promote more awareness and education.
The MSU Sexual Assault Crisis and Safety Education Program’s main office is in Room 14 of the Student Services Building and their counseling service is located in the MSU Counseling Center, Room 207. Their 24-hour crisis hotline is (517) 372-6666. The MSU Women’s Resource Center has free safety booklets available at 332 Union Building.
The various resources on campus attempt to help women break their silence, and just voicing stories of sexual assault can begin the healing process for survivors. We are listening.
“Speaking out about my story is a sign to me that I’m moving on,” Mary said. “I want to be able to give someone the strength to move on because, if you don’t, it will eat you alive.”

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