When she was raped at age 16, Candice Hall didn’t know where to turn or who to tell.
So she bottled it up. She pretended it had no bearing on her life, and didn’t say a word about the attack until she told her mother – four years later. It would be another four years or so before she’d tell anyone else.
Now, the 34-year-old Fort Wayne woman spends time in schools trying to get the message across to anyone who will listen: If you’re a victim of rape, you have options. You can talk to people.
And, it’s not your fault.
I knew nothing, I really didn’t, Hall said. I didn’t know that what happened to me was something I could report.
As an outreach specialist for the Fort Wayne Women’s Bureau, Hall spoke to more than 4,500 students in local middle and high schools last year about rape prevention and what those who are raped can do.
And education on the subject is something that is badly needed if a report released by Indiana University this year is any indication.
The report – compiled by the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy and the Consortium for Education and Social Sciences Research – cites what the authors call sobering numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show a widespread problem of sexual violence in Indiana.
Those same numbers, the report suggests, show that Indiana is in constant need of education, especially among middle school- and high school-aged children and young adults, who are many times the target of such violence.
Sex is still a very taboo subject that people don’t want to address, Hall said. To put a violent aspect on it is even scarier. People don’t want to think it could happen in their community and their home.
Surveys shed light
One woman in five in Indiana is raped during her lifetime.
About 43 percent of Hoosier women experience sexual assault other than rape.
Of high school-aged females in the state, 17 percent said they were at some point forced into sexual intercourse – the second-highest rate of reported forced intercourse in the nation. Wyoming had the highest rate.
The numbers are from two CDC surveys – one in which more than 18,000 men and women nationwide were randomly called in 2010 and interviewed about sexual violence; the other in which more than 1,600 high school students statewide were interviewed in 2009.
Many of the incidents go unreported.
There are many misconceptions about rape and sexual assault, misconceptions that Hall and others locally are trying to put to rest permanently.
Unfortunately, we let the media teach our kids a lot, said Hall, referring not only to news but to television shows. That’s where a lot of people are getting the wrong message, like somebody deserves it if they dress a certain way or they were flirtatious.
That’s not OK.
Nobody may have a better understanding of those misconceptions than Sharon Robison.
A forensic nurse and chief administrator at the Fort Wayne Sexual Assault Treatment Center, Robison said the myths about sexual assault and rape continue to persist, making it difficult to make a criminal case.
It’s a challenge – from getting victims to come forward to start a case, through to trial when a jury must be convinced a crime was committed.
Many people have this conception of rape, that rape leaves some form of (physical) injury. A lot of them don’t, Robison said. Our driving force is educating the community, and many who are potential jurors.
Nurses and officials with Robison’s treatment center will go anywhere or speak to any group about sexual assault, she said. They’ve made presentations to Rotary clubs, women’s groups and colleges. Recently, officials met with case managers of local school districts.
Robison could not speak to the CDC numbers cited in the Indiana University report but said that many of the female victims who come to the sexual assault treatment center are between ages 15 and 23.
When someone comes to the center after being raped or assaulted, they’ll be given three options: They can do nothing; they can be examined and allow the police to be involved; or they can be examined but wait up to a year before deciding whether to go to the police while the center holds any evidence nurses collect.
Many who choose the last option never go to the police, Robison said.
There are many calls to the treatment center from possible victims who just want to hear their options, and never follow up, she added. It’s impossible to tell how many missed cases are out there.
For some, it might be because of fear or shame. It might be because a victim doesn’t know what he or she can do, or it’s a combination of factors.
In Hall’s case – like many she hears about – drinking was involved, she said.
There were times when she thought she put herself in that vulnerable situation, so it was her fault. When she began teaching about rape prevention three years ago, she said she finally started to fully heal.
Robison said many victims are afraid because they were drinking underage. By coming forward, they fear they will get in trouble or won’t be believed. It’s just another myth, Robison said.
No situation a woman finds herself in is an excuse for rape, Hall says. It doesn’t matter what she wears, or if she was being flirtatious with someone – none of that matters once she says no.
If you’re drinking, that’s a choice you make, she said. We never choose to be raped.
Before joining the Women’s Bureau, Hall was a guidance counselor at Hamilton Junior/Senior High School.
Budget cuts led to her being laid off, and someone who knew about her story approached her with an opportunity for her current job.
She started sending out letters to middle schools and high schools, both in Allen County and the surrounding counties, asking if she could talk to the students about rape and sexual assault.
Some responded and invited her to health classes; others ignored her requests.
She now regularly speaks during health classes at North Side, Carroll, Northrop and Homestead high schools and several other schools outside the area. In those school hallways, she see things that are inappropriate – things that go unreported.
Pantsing – the pulling down of someone’s pants in public in an effort to embarrass them – is big these days, she said.
She sees touching that may seem playful on the surface but is really not.
Just because someone in front of you thinks it’s OK to have their rear grabbed in the hallway doesn’t mean you have to, she said.
Students often aren’t taught what sexual assault is, she said.
According to the Indiana University report, local schools should provide sexual violence prevention and other violence prevention initiatives in the K-12 curriculum.
The report said school officials should foster an environment where the staff are role models to their peers and students, which is something Fort Wayne Community Schools administrators have tried to instill in recent years.
We’re aware we are in a world where a lot can happen to our students on any given day, said Krista Stockman, FWCS spokeswoman. That’s why it’s important the adults are in tune with the students.
Stockman said all teachers are expected to get to know their students, to know how each learns as an individual and to be available to them if needed.
By doing this, students who may have a serious problem can go to a teacher, possibly about a sexual assault, for which the school will notify the police or the department of child services, depending on the circumstances.
Other officials from Allen County school districts echoed similar philosophies.
Anita Gross, the school social worker for Southwest Allen County Schools, said elementary students are taught early about good touch, bad touch.
Middle school students learn about boundaries and sexual harassment issues. Counselors and a school resource officer are on hand to help with Homestead High School students who may be facing rape or other forms of sexual violence.
On the East Allen County Schools website, students can fill out a form to tell the administration about anything including bullying and sexual harassment, according to school safety manager Jeff Studebaker.
The district has also implemented several programs promoting self-respect, Studebaker said, covering some bullying or sexual harassment topics. And it’s made clear to teachers what to do if a student approaches them with something as serious as sexual assault or rape.
If something like that has happened, they need to let someone in administration know, so they can call protective services, Studebaker said.
Still, while some schools make an effort, Hall said education can improve and needs to begin at the home with the parents.
Unfortunately, in some cases, parents either shy away from the subject or ignore it all together.
Recently, at a middle school, a student told Hall in front of the entire class that it was her fault she was attacked because she had been drinking.
That’s not her, that’s what she’s learning at home, Hall said.
No need for silence
If nothing else, Hall wants the students who listen to her to know that they don’t have to be silent about rape.
They should call the Fort Wayne Sexual Assault Treatment Center right away if they are a victim. Don’t take a shower, Hall said. Evidence might be lost. They should also tell a trusted friend or adult. It doesn’t have to be a parent.
Keeping it bottled in, like she did, will probably not help.
It was a really long process for me, she said. I didn’t deal with it, I didn’t talk about it. I just pretended it didn’t affect me.
When she did start to confront what happened to her, she said she could see that the attack affected her life in many ways she hadn’t noticed before.
Besides going into schools and teaching rape prevention, Hall also offers self-defense classes – one geared to teenaged girls, the other offered to women entering college.
She does these classes periodically when she hears from five or more people who want to participate.
Her overarching message is always the same: It’s not their fault if they’ve been raped or abused.
I always tell people, it’s never, ever the victim’s fault, she said. And for most victims, I think they believe it was their fault.