Sexual assault and Iowa State

Rape is a strong word

Rape is a violent act frequently utilized as a method of terrorism and psychological torture to convey power and control. The damages of rape have occurred throughout history, and little indication of improvement exists, even in modern society.

The women of the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center have recently brought the issue to light on the ISU campus through their series of events in April as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Rape is present even at Iowa State, and Penny Rice, director of the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center, deals with its aftereffects all too frequently.

“There are individuals in this world who believe that they have the right to violate another individual’s rights. That’s a problem,” Rice said. “It’s not about sex. It’s about power, and it’s about power over an individual.”

Sexual assault is more common than is widely recognized.

Most sexual assault advocacy organizations affirm that between one in four and one in six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

Recent research released by the FBI and the Story County Sexual Assault Response Team has presented some significant results.

According to the 2009 Uniform Crime Report from the FBI, 23 forcible rapes were reported in Ames with a total of 24 in Story County. Story County Sexual Assault Response Team reported that they treated 44 cases of sexual assault in 2009.

Accordingly, the ISU Department of Public Safety documented 20 sexual assault cases in the same year.

Why does it continue to be a problem?

Most cases of sexual assault go completely unreported.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, better known as RAINN, as many as 60 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police. Most other sources disagree as to exactly how many rapes go unreported, but they estimate the number of reports between 10 and 20 percent.

Despite these discrepancies, under-reporting of sexual assault is still a major problem authorities have when dealing with rape. There are a number of reasons as to why sexual assaults go unreported.

Given her experience, Rice was willing to speculate as to why.

“One of the major ones, I think at least, is that we live in a rape culture,” Rice said.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that term before, but largely within the media and within the advertising industry, movies, songs and stuff like that, sexual violence is normalized, so a lot of the things somebody experiences they may not think, ‘This is an issue, I need to get assistance for this.’ They might think that this is something that happens, and that’s the way it is.”

It’s much different from a student’s perspective.

Christine Peterson, graduate in educational leadership and policy studies and graduate assistant at the Women’s Center, agrees with Rice and shifts some of the blame on a victim’s social environment. From her experience, she suggested that peer pressure and potential backlash from the ISU community can be intimidating and could easily deter other victims from seeking help for their problems.

“You can’t control the rest of the student body and the way they treat survivors and the language they use and the victim blaming that goes on,” Peterson said.

“I’ve seen from a lot of students and heard when their peers, or when any student tells them that they’re a survivor or a victim, and the damage that can do.”

Don’t be afraid to report a rape.

Many students are also intimidated by the process of accessing help because pursuing an investigation can be daunting; especially for someone under intense emotional distress.

Not all students want to take action or pursue litigation, said Michelle Boettcher, director of Iowa State Judicial Affairs.

“It’s a long process, and oftentimes people just don’t want to deal with it,” she said. “It’s easier to move on with their life if they can just move on and not have to dwell on if for months or sometimes years at a time.”

However, she did want to stress the fact that there is a strong support system for victims in place to help get them through the process.

“It is a difficult process, and that’s one of the reasons we respond as a team and to make sure they understand that when they come to law enforcement,” said Suzie Owen, investigative officer with Story County Sexual Assault Response Team.

“I don’t want them to worry too much about the court process at the beginning stages because you just don’t know what’s going to happen, but they need to be aware that it’s not generally an immediate arrest.”

What do I do if I am assaulted?

There are numerous resources both on and off campus for sexual assault victims.

When students approach student affairs, Story County Sexual Assault Response Team or the Assault Care Center for Extended Support, they are in control of the situation and are the ones who decide what actions will be taken.

By approaching one of the aforementioned resources, the individual will be given options for counseling, legal assistance through Story County Sexual Assault Response Team and the ISU Police, or university assistance through judicial affairs.

Even if the individual victim reports to one of such agencies and obtains advice, they are not required to pursue prosecution.

“We really want them to be in a place where they can make the decision that’s best for them, because a lot of the process is about empowerment,” Boettcher said. “So we don’t ever want to miscommunicate with a student and have them feel compromised on another level on top of the incident that occurred.”

Boettcher also wanted to dispel the fear that many students have that they will be reprimanded if they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the attack.

“What we don’t want is someone who’s underage who had been drinking not to report that they were sexually assaulted,” she said. “We are going to focus on the most critical issue, which is getting them the help and resources they need.”

The Ames and ISU Police operate in the same way, and each puts victims first when dealing with sexual assault.

“We really care about the student and want to make sure that we’re going through it at the right pace with the right pieces of support in place for them so that they can move on from the incident, finish their careers at Iowa State, move on and be successful,” Boettcher said.

Is it effective?

Most people within the organizations think so, but Ashley Hand, Response Service Coordinator for Story County Sexual Assault Response Team, thinks there is room for improvement within Iowa State.

“The university has to not only respond to the needs of the victim, but the needs of the perpetrator,” she said.

“Doing that causes them to walk a fine line, but they also have to do risk management for the university itself. The university has the duty to protect all of the individuals enrolled here, so that I think compromises a lot of the services from what they could be.”

Hand said proceedings within the university are not always clear because of sensitive privacy issues.

“Again, because the university has to walk this fine line of protecting both parties involved as well as their own risk management, I think that it can get a little muddy sometimes,” said Ashley Hand.

Overall, Iowa State is a leader in first response and follow-up procedures compared to many other universities, and leaders within the community continue to empower people to have the courage to take advantage of the resources available to them.

Hand said there is no question as to whether rape will continue to be a part of our society for years to come, and Rice passionately continues to call on people to recognize the problem.

“It changes the life of an individual forever; not just one, it’s all of their friends, their family, their partner, their future partners [and] their children,” she said.

“It is something that we tolerate, and I guess we can’t bring it into our psyche because if we did, we would be horrified.”

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Tough women “Take Back the Night”

“I learned. And when I learned, I found my voice. I told him, “fuck you” as I ran out of his house.”

Liz Steinborn, a graduate student in Equity and Social Justice Education, shared the story of her encounter with a sexual predator to a small crowd on the West Terrace of the Memorial Union, Wednesday night. Steinborn was accosted by a close family friend, and had drastic effects on her as a 16-year-old girl.

When she was younger, she lived in fear, but now, she is a strong woman and female rights activist right here at Iowa State. He is one of several women from the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center that helped to organize the Take Back the Night rally and march as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“Why does the responsibility of keeping ourselves safe lie with us? Why should my hair or my clothing dictate whether or not i’m targeted for sexual assault. Instead of being told how to stay safe, I say we demand our safety.”

Steinborn not only wanted to empower young men and women, she also helped to raise larger social questions. Her speech continued to discuss what is often called the American “rape culture,” a concept that criticizes society for focusing on holding people responsible for their own safety to avoid sexual assault, rather than working to prevent sexual assault by educating people of the potential negative effects of their actions.

Several other speakers including Provost Elizabeth Hoffmann, Peter England, and Brad Freihoefer, LGBTSS coordinator that shared the same theme of empowering men and women to stand up for their own rights and to hold perpetrators of sexual crimes.

At the conclusion of Liz’s speech, the campanile tolled and the small, but loud group of young women (and a few men) walked down the south steps toward Lincoln Way chanting, “Yes means yes, no means no. However we dress, wherever we go.”

The sun began to set over Friley Hall and cast a long golden beam across the choppy Lake Laverne, sharing the surface with the reflection of a cold April sky.

The weather had little effect on the small, but dedicated marchers. Although this was a loud and jubilant event, some of the individuals present attended for much more personal reasons. One of such individuals was a young woman named Vicki who was sexually assaulted herself.

“I was molested as a child, and I feel like I need to be here for other people,” she managed to force out as her voice broke. She began to weep.

“I want just to let other people know that there are families out there that will come out,” Vicki continued. “There’s just people that don’t feel strong enough to tell anyone. I feel like that for the next generation we can stop this.”

Despite the apparent difficulty of sharing her experience, she continued to call on Iowa State students to be active in combating sexual assault.

“I feel like students really don’t realize how hurtful people can be, or don’t pay attention to people’s actions and that they might be able to help someone if they pay attention,” she said.

The march continued south on Lynn Avenue and turned west on Knapp before returning north down Welch Avenue. The march attracted the confused stares from many curious onlookers and even picked up a few bystanders who marched alongside them for a short time.

Although there were mostly young women present, a few male students were also in attendance. They too, were beginning to understand the importance of sexual assault awareness.

“At the end of this, I feel more connected. It seems like there are many things happening behind the scenes that you don’t know about,” said Charles Kanube, graduate student in Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology. “Because it doesn’t happen to you, most of the time you don’t know about it.”

Despite obseneties being yelled from open windows in Friley, the march continued through the arches and concluded at the Union Drive Community Center. It was followed by an open mic night, in which those present were able to share their experiences in open discussion with their peers.

Steinborn was thrilled about the attendance and deemed the event a success. She had few reservations about sharing, and was optimistic about the effects of her efforts.

“That’s the first that I’ve told my story to a group of people that I wasn’t directly connected to. It was empowering, but it was scary,” Steinborn said. “I think being able to now communicate that with others is really important. Share your story. There are people who want to listen.”

An interview with Poddala Jayantha

Here’s the video of our interview with Poddala Jayantha. This is the final installment of my series on Poddala.

Appeal from the journalist

I’ve recently received a large amount of feedback with regards to my recent stories about Poddala Jayantha and the media in Sri Lanka. I understand that the situation is not as I have portrayed it, but I am currently working to compile an article summarizing all of the information I have been given in hopes to convey the most accurate information possible.

Please, I encourage you to leave me feedback and provide me with whatever information possible.

Q & A with Poddala Jayantha

Poddala Jayantha, Image borrowed from Neruppu.com

He has deep brown eyes, a thick black beard and dark skin flecked with white blotches caused by acid when it is poured on human skin. He sat up in his chair and spoke softly in Sinhalese that was, in turn, interpreted by his colleague, Sanath de Silva.

His name is Poddala Jayantha. He is a Sri Lankan journalist who was tortured, beaten and nearly killed because he spoke against his government and claimed to be fighting for freedom of expression and human rights.

He sat down with the Iowa State Daily following his lecture for a brief question and answer session.

Why did you become an investigative journalist?

“He became an investigative journalist because he realized that there were abuses and you know there was corruption,” Silva said. “There were huge amounts of public funds being wasted, pilfered away. So he thought that if he stopped it, a little bit of that would trickle down to the public, which would help the poor people, the needy people.”

Were you worried about the potential repercussions of being an investigative reporter?

“Before 2005, Sri Lanka and journalists never went through these sort of problems. There were restrictions — but not to this level, not to this degree.”

What sort of censorship have you experienced in your career?

“For him, it was a unique situation. His first job was with a government media institution, so when he discovered certain wrongdoings, he had to butt heads with the editors who were not willing to publish that because they were government media. It certainly encouraged him and gave him much inspiration so that someday he could get to the other side and investigate further.”

What was the biggest challenge you encountered as a journalist?

“He had two problems. As an investigative journalist, when he was doing that, when he was revealing those secrets he had death threats from the culprits. Then the second one was that he was fighting for the freedom of the media. Then he had threats from the government. Those were the challenges he never overcame, but he tried to beat them.”

What was the content of your most controversial stories?

“Totally political.”

How would you compare media and free speech in Sri Lanka to that in America?

“Last time when it snowed in New York, the headline in one of the papers was ‘Mayor, go home.’ Something like that is unmentionable in a country like Sri Lanka. He would have been killed had he done that. [Jayantha] felt so sad about the situation in Sri Lanka, you know. He said it’s so frustrating, even if you are there you can’t do much. At least by being here he can at least enlighten the rest of the world.”

Is it worth it?

“He says that everything he has done has not been fruitful, but he says that the ones he has revealed and the change that he has initiated he thinks that’s enough for him.”

You spoke of your attack in 2009. Why do you think you were attacked?

“He published the article and just went into hiding. He knew there were threats and he was used to that sort of threats. But the actual threat, for this one, came when he was fighting for the rights of the media. When he was fighting for the rights of the media against the government, only then did the real thing happen. Then he was abducted.”

How do you feel now that you’ve been forced to live in exile for fear of being killed?

“Some of my colleagues are still there and they have to bear the brunt of the burden. In those days, I used to be part of it. I used to share. I’m sad, but the only consolation is that my family and my daughter are safe.”

What do you hope to see in the future?

“He’s waiting for things to change before he goes back. We have a huge responsibility back home, all of us. The people are going through untold miseries there. There’s no short answer, and there’s no shortcut, but we have to have a democracy, a transparent democracy.”

“[Sri Lanka] is not a democracy now. Even our constitution enshrines all these fundamental rights, but it could be stretched, twisted to suit them because we have a poor situation, so we have to change the system. We need to have an absolute democracy where people can ask for accountability.”

Jayantha currently lives in political asylum in New York City where he works as a human rights activist attempting to raise awareness of the situation in Sri Lanka. He encouraged students to read about Sri Lanka, “fall in love with it” and to keep investigating; to learn the truth.

Despite research, questions remain..

Human rights have been a major topic in the Sri Lankan media and have been brought to light by numerous journalists and non-governmental organizations.

Sri Lanka recently pulled out of a 26-year civil war and is desperately trying to rebuild itself. The bloody war between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, produced numerous human rights violations and war crimes that drew the attention of both foreign governments and non-governmental organizations across the globe.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is a separatist organization based in northern Sri Lanka that began a movement attempting to form an independent Tamil state in the late 1970s. The organization is known for its terrorist attacks and assassination of Sri Lankan government officials.

Both sides of the conflict have been accused of numerous human rights violations, including the use of human shields, indiscriminate shelling and preventing essential humanitarian aid from reaching the population.

Separatist forces even allegedly forcibly recruited civilians, including children, into their ranks, which contributed to the massive number of deaths that are estimated between 80,000 and 100,000, through the quarter of a century of conflict.

Although both parties have been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, presently, none have been tried, according to the Human Rights Watch report.

Despite the attempted intervention of foreign parties, the populace continues to struggle. According to a report from the Human Rights Watch, the Sri Lankan government continues to attempt to control the population through threats and attacks on humanitarian workers, journalists and human rights defenders.

However, the situation may be quite different than how it is depicted in the Human Rights Watch reports and accounts from journalists, including Poddala Jayantha, a Sri Lankan journalist who recently spoke at Iowa State as part of First Amendment Day.

Incidentally, some ISU students from Sri Lanka see the issue very differently. Migara Perera, junior in mechanical engineering and resident of Colombo — the capitol of Sri Lanka — has a completely different opinion of his government and the separatists.

“There is no way [the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] can be a good party,” Perera said. “There is no way we should give human rights for them because they were killing innocent people. So, how can we give human rights to them?”

Accordingly, he is supportive of his government and optimistic for his country’s future.

“Right now they’re trying to get on the level with the minorities,” Perera said. “It’s not easy. It’s the nature of the world, even in this place. Everywhere the minority suffers, but not like those days. Right now, the government is trying to rehabilitate the [The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] how they can. They’re trying their best.”

Sarini Mapalagama, junior in industrial engineering, had a similar opinion of the situation. She, too, is wary of the separatists.

“There were lot of suicide bombings going on in the country, and it was frightening while there was traffic on the roads, since we wouldn’t know when the next bomb would explode,” Mapalagama said in an email. “It was frightening to use public transportation since [the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] targeted [sic] places where there would be many people as possible.”

Mapalagama was also skeptical as to the reports issued from the numerous journalists and non-governmental organizations within the country, including the work of Poddala Jayantha.

“I personally wouldn’t like him since he is a [the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] supporter,” Mapalagama said. “The whole country was trying to win the civil war against [the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] and few journalists like this give out wrong information to the world, when we were in the middle of a war.”

She, too, is optimistic for the future and confident in her government.

“The government is taking measures to develop the country after winning the war against terrorists,” Mapalagama said. “Millions of Rupees were lost due to the war, but now all the government owned money can be used for the betterment of civilians.”

Mapalagama was also critical of the efforts of the United Nations and supportive of her government.

“[The] U.N. mentioned that the government violated human rights during the war. But the president denied that argument since the forces are not commanded to kill innocent civilians but to attack only the terrorists,” she said. “[The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] was violating human rights as they were training young children to become soldiers and to become suicide bombers.”

Disagreements between the citizens and the government raise further questions that remain only to be solved through time.

Poddala Jayantha speaks at Iowa State

They threw my unconscious body in a ditch and left me to die.”

Poddala Jayantha is a Sri Lankan journalist who was nearly killed because of his investigative reporting with regard to alleged human rights violations executed by the Sri Lankan government. He spoke of his experience last Thursday as part of the First Amendment Day celebration in the Cardinal Room of the Memorial Union.

“I stand here today as a political asylum as a Sri Lankan journalist,” said Jayantha through a translator. “I was forced to leave Sri Lanka to save my life. There are so many other journalists who live there in fear. Most of them are living in exile.”

In his presentation, Jayantha told a room full of future journalists of the role and influence of media in Sri Lanka and how the struggle has caused extreme censorship of the media. He speaks primarily on behalf of the Tamil minority against the human rights violations enacted during the civil war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan government.

The government tightened restrictions on the media following the end of the civil war in 2009, according to the Human Rights Watch report of 2010.

“As pressure mounted for an independent investigation into alleged laws of war violations,” the report said, “the government responded by threatening journalists and civil society activists, effectively curtailing public debate and establishing its own commission of inquiry with a severely limited mandate.”

Many of the threats were realized, Jayantha said.

“The first shots after the war was over were fired at the journalists and free media,” Jayantha said. “They virtually crushed the free media institutions, and they only have the pro-government media to assassinate the character of the people who oppose them, or they actually use death squads to kill them.”

As a matter of fact, Jayantha was the victim of a death squad, and he suspects they were motivated to silence him for speaking out against human rights violations.

“I was tortured and my left leg was broken,” he said. “And today I’m walking with the assistance of steel rod that has been placed there. They poured acid on me. They also cut my beard and hair and put it in my mouth and forced me to inhale, which caused severe problems in my lungs subsequently. They threw my unconscious body in a ditch and left me to die.”

Following the June 2009 attack, he was in the hospital for nearly a month and was unable to walk for six more. His case is not an exception, as many other journalists have been attacked and several have paid the ultimate price.

Jayantha said since this administration took over in 2005, five leading media institutions have been burned down, 35 media employees have been murdered and six journalists have been kidnapped. Five have been released due to public opposition, but one is still missing and has been since January of 2010.

There has been no ensuing investigation to many of these cases, including Jayantha’s, and his attack remains unsolved.

“Every atrocity committed against a journalist and the media since April 20, 2005, to Dec. 8, 2009, the day that an editor of a newspaper was murdered, is being gradually covered by the dust that invaded through time,” Jayantha said.

However, he continues to speak out against the Sri Lankan government and hopes to continue to fight for human rights in his home country. He called on journalists and the international community to fight for free speech and seek the truth and hold the government accountable for its actions.

“That’s why I’m appealing to journalists. … Don’t let this freedom die.”

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