Yesterday the Columbia Missourian (which is staffed by students at the Missouri school of Journalism) published a really excellent, extremely sad, piece (which is triggering, as may be the rest of this post) on a University of Missouri student who just graduated this month, but was forced to spend her senior year reeling in the aftermath of rape. The student, “J,” woke up with a condom wrapper on her pillow and no memory of the night before. After an exam at the hospital, it became clear that she had been raped.
J’s story highlights a number of routine struggles for rape victims. For one thing, there is the issue of not knowing how and where to get the proper care. Although the hospital gave J Plan B and antibiotics (although sadly, she was not informed by anyone what the pills she was given actually were, she had to ask herself), she had to find HIV post-exposure prophylaxis on her own:
Over the weekend, a friend told her about drugs that prevent HIV. To track them down, she called what felt like every health care facility in Columbia: University Hospital, Boone Hospital Center, the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network, MU’s Student Health Center and others.
She told her story over and over. Someone at the emergency room of Boone Hospital Center sent her back to University Hospital. A University Hospital doctor suggested she get the drugs from the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services.
For us at SAFER, this directly speaks to the need for university health centers/sexual assault crisis centers to at least have this information easily accessible to students, if they can’t/won’t provide the drugs themselves. But it’s clearly problem that is larger than the university system, which is equally frustrating.
J’s story takes place entirely outside of the university system, in fact, since she didn’t know who the perpetrator was, so she could not make a complaint to the school about another student. She chose to go forward with a police investigation, and has found this to be a slow process:
Public Information Officer Jessie Haden said in an interview that detective work moves slowly even in the simplest of cases…An ideal workload would be about 25 cases, and some Columbia police detectives have twice that, Haden said.
…Three months after the rape, police didn’t know who it was. The next step is to wait for DNA test results. Because of a backlog at the Missouri State Highway Patrol center that processes DNA, those results probably won’t be available for about six months.
To be honest, I have a really hard time knowing how to frame stories like this. It’s hard to balance the fact that, as Haden said, “J.’s experience, though frustrating, is normal,” with not wanting to discourage people from reporting sexual assaults. We know that reporting is important: not only is it important on a cultural scale (breaking the silence about rape, having a better understanding of actual numbers), on an individual level it is a predictor of post-assault care, treatment, and healing. I’ve been writing on this blog for…I guess a couple of years now? Maybe less…but it’s something I still haven’t worked out. I’m not a service or law enforcement professional, I can only go by what I read, so I don’t have special encouraging insight. Maybe the key is to push the benefits of reporting without promising too much from the criminal justice system, but it’s so tragic to me that I have to think about this “balance” at all. I would assume that if we took sexual violence more seriously, there would be more resources spent on processing crime data (or it would be tested in the first place), and justice would come quicker for some people.
One last thing I want to point out is J’s struggles with local media coverage of the rape. Although I’m assuming J’s identity was kept anonymous, she was still extremely bothered by how stories over-exaggerated and misrepresented how much she had been drinking (the article has a really interesting breakdown on how the media accesses police reports, which is worth a whole other post, really—read the original!) and disclosed information that she felt compromised her case. It’s another issue that I should and would like to know more about— journalistic ethics and sexual assault cases. For the moment, I will say that I was very pleased with the Missourian’s coverage, especially the fact that they ran a lengthy sidebar with information on what HIV prophylaxis is and how it works; information about date-rape drugs, and contact information for university crisis centers and counselling. But of course, I hope that all MU students would know that information before reading this article…