Ashley Bloemhof-Staff Writer
“He’s ugly,” she thinks. “Everything about him is ugly.”
Years later, these thoughts seem as real to her as they had to her seven-year-old mind. Her uncle had sexually assaulted her. She had thought about running, had mapped out her escape, but fear froze her in place.
On March 30, Professor of Social Work and licensed therapist Tara Boer showed a video of this girl speaking to 58 attendees of a Sexual Assault Awareness Q&A held on Dordt’s campus. Boer, who is also a licensed therapist at ATLAS, a faith-based community organization in Sioux Center, works with child victims of sexual assault. At the Q&A, she mentioned that each interaction with a child reminds her of both the frequency of sexual assault cases and “how (sometimes) ignorant our society is on this topic.”
The month of April — Sexual Assault Awareness Month — hopes to dispel said ignorance.
Research conducted by RAINN, formally the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, found that an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds.
That’s over 35 assaults every hour.
RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, partners with more than 1,000 sexual assault service providers across the nation, including CAASA (Centers Against Abuse & Sexual Assault). CAASA is a non-profit organization that provides services for victims of sexual violence throughout multiple Iowa counties, including Sioux Center.
Sioux Center Police Chief Paul Adkins started on the force in 1973 and has been chief for 40 years. When asked about the history of sexual assault in town, Adkins said that reports have increased in the past two-to-four years, though ‘[sexual assault] has always been prevalent.”
“We are not immune to it,” said Adkins. “It’s not an epidemic, but it happens.”
CAASA reports that one in four women, and one in seven men, will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime. Regarding incidents of assault on college campuses, 84 percent of victims know their assailant, according to CAASA.
The Diamond asked 34 Dordt students if they believe sexual assault to be an issue on campus. 27 students said they believe sexual assault does happen on campus, two said cases are rare, two said “I hope not.”, one say no and another said, “Oh, hell yeah.”
“I would assume it happens on every college campus and everywhere to a certain degree,” said Stephanie Kuiper, a senior studying on the SPICE program, “but I personally know of instances of both sexual assault and what would technically be considered harassment – practically every day, almost.”
The recent rising awareness of sexual harassment on campuses across the nation has led to discussions about a new term: rape culture. Due to the newness of the phrase, not to mention its implications, some feel that narrowing down an exact definition of this term can be difficult. Freshman Emi Stewart believes people toss around the term too often in light of its perceived ambiguity. “I think it’s dangerous to throw around a phrase when nobody can pin down what it is,” Stewart said.
Social work professor Erin Olson defines rape culture as any environment “where rape is the norm or the language we use to talk about sex or women.” She also said that a “certain amount of victim blaming is involved,” and CAASA’s definition of the term includes that this culture makes women responsible to end sexual violence and that rape culture “makes violence seem sexy and sexuality seem violent.”
Among the Diamond interviews, no two definitions of rape culture aligned, though general themes emerged throughout. For instance, Stewart believes the terms manifests itself through “the media and how it, at large, marginalizes women’s voices.”
Senior John Jacobi provides a different definition, as he views rape culture as more implicit than explicit. Jacobi believes rape culture may exist even when society is “passive towards rape and sexual assault in general” and not making efforts to prevent its occurrence.
Dordt’s Howard Wilson had the opportunity to voice his opinion on the matter in the March 2017 issue of The Banner. This edition of the Christian Reformed Church of North America’s official monthly publication featured Dordt Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Wilson, along with Rev. Mary Hulst, the chaplain at Calvin College, and former Dordt social work professor Jim Vanderwoerd. In the article, Banner reporter Gayla R. Postma acknowledges that there “is no single agreed-upon definition of ‘rape culture’” and then quotes Wilson as stating, “‘We don’t believe [rape culture] exists on our campus,’…’It’s just not who we are.’”
Wilson’s comments may have caused some raised eyebrows among part of the Dordt community. Of the students and faculty interviewed by Diamond staff, 25 individuals believe that rape culture exists on Dordt’s campus, eight believe it does not and five do not know.
Kristin Van De Griend, an adjunct professor of sociology and social work at Dordt, said “Absolutely” when asked if she believed rape culture exists at Dordt.
Similarly, junior Jenna Van Ravenswaay believes that jokes and flippant comments about rape – i.e. “I just got raped by that test” – form society and the way individuals think. To Van Ravenswaay, “What people say can create a rape culture.” Leanne Dieleman, also a Dordt junior, said “I think that it is present at Dordt and it’s something that should be talked about more than it is…”
Olson, who works with Wilson on Title IX cases, sought to clarify Wilson’s statement in the March 30 Q&A. “I think what Howard was trying to say was not that it doesn’t exist, but that it’s not who we are,” meaning, according to Olson, that a visitor “won’t walk on campus and think we blame victims.” In a later interview, Olson said that while certain aspects of rape culture within broader society, including large universities, has trickled down to Dordt, the college doesn’t have an “overwhelming” rape culture in which such behavior is normalized.
Tori Mann, a junior studying on SPICE, is among those who do not believe that rape culture exists on Dordt’s campus. Mann said that while she is sometimes “surprised by what people do at Dordt,” she does not think rape culture exists on campus.
The topics of sexual assault and rape culture have become a booming topic of discussion amongst the national media, especially as these issues pertain to college campuses. According to a recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, one in five women are sexually assaulted while receiving an education at a four-year institution. Recent news highlights Baylor University and Brigham Young University as pointing to this statistic.
On Oct. 28, 2016, The Wall Street Journal reported that, since 2011, 17 women have reported being sexually or domestically assaulted by 19 Baylor football players, four of those assaults being gang rapes. Meanwhile, at Brigham Young the The Salt Lake Tribune reported that students spoke out against the university’s Honor Code Office as administrators were penalizing sexual assault victims, “not for their rapes, but for drinking, staying out late or being in guys’ rooms.” These are two cases among hundreds, as shown by the Netflix documentary “The Hunting Ground,” a film that features cases of sexual assault at institutions around the nation, including Florida State and Harvard Law School.
“I believe [sexual assault] happens at any college campus,” said Van De Griend. “Research shows that it happens even on Christian campuses.”
Van De Griend isn’t wrong.
In 2002, a female student at Liberty University accused Jesse Matthews, a defensive lineman on the Liberty Flames’ football team, of raping her at the Vines Center, an on-campus sports arena. She did not press charges.
Then, in Sept. 2016, Liberty suspended two football players from the team after an investigation linked them to an alleged sexual assault that took place the year prior. The university said these students were connected with an alleged off-campus assault in August 2015. Then, less than three months later, towards the end of the football season, the institution hired Ian McCaw as the school’s new athletic director. His former employer? Baylor University.
“He is a good man who found himself in a place where bad things were happening and decided to leave,” said Liberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr. in a statement about McCaw’s hiring.
The size of a Christian institution does not shield it from incidents of sexual assault, however. With a 2013 undergraduate population of around 2,434, Wheaton College, located west of Chicago in Illinois, reported six sex offenses (involving rape or “forced fondling”) in 2012, five of which were committed in on-campus housing facilities. The college reported one on-campus case in 2013 and five on-campus cases in 2015, four committed in students’ residents.
Gordon College, an institution located in Wenham, MA with around 1,657 undergraduates, reported three cases of rape on campus and six cases of fondling from 2013 to 2015. In those three years, Trinity Christian College, located in Palos Heights, IL, reported one case of non-forcible (incest, statutory rape) sex offense and Calvin College reported one case of fondling. Dordt’s neighbor Northwestern College reported zero cases of sexual assault from 2013 to 2015 and one case of fondling in 2015.
These reports were filed under the requirements of the Clery Act. This law federally mandates all colleges and universities who receive federal funds, including grants, to provide a public annual security report to faculty and students every year on Oct. 1. Among other requirements, this report must include crime statistics for the preceding three calendar years. According to the Clery Center, these statistics include all crimes reported, cases of alcohol and drug use and “the prevention of/response to sexual assault, domestic or dating violence, and stalking.”
Considering the realities of sexual assault at Christian schools across the nation, it is vital to examine this reality in the context of Dordt College and Sioux Center as a whole.
On Aug. 22, 2016, Daniel Fennig, a 2015 Dordt College graduate, was convicted of third degree sexual abuse by the state of Iowa for engaging in sexual intercourse with a minor in his former residence. Fennig, who participated on Dordt’s football and track teams, had been an assistant track coach at Dordt up until his arrest.
In terms of sexual assault on Dordt’s campus, the college’s most recent Clery Act filing shows Dordt’s crime statistics for 2013-2015 reporting two cases of sexual assault on campus.
Dordt’s Student Handbook defines sexual assault as “a form of sexual misconduct” that runs the gamut from “forcible rape to nonphysical forms of pressure that compel individuals to engage in sexual activity against their will.” In the fall of last year, Dordt added a “Report It” Title IX tab to the DCC Homepage. Title IX statues aim to protect college students and faculty from gender or sexual “discrimination, harassment or violence,” according to the Title IX report form linked on Dordt’s website. At the March 30 Q&A, Olson said that once a report is filled out and signed, the document is sent to Howard Wilson, who is Dordt’s Title IX Coordinator. Wilson then brings together other deputy investigators on campus and chooses at least two administrators to run a full investigation into the incident.
Wilson stated that some large public institutions adjudicate thousands of Title IX complaints each year.
The occurrence of sexual assault on campus does not shock many students. Sophomore Katerina Maybaum said, “I think it is important to remember that just because it is a Christian school doesn’t mean that stuff like this doesn’t happen.”
However, the reality of this issue should not devolve into complacency, according to Raddhitya “Brad” Badudu. When discussing sexual assault on campus, Badudu, a senior theology major, said that “this is not a joke. This is actually happening on campus.”
The actual amount of sexual assault cases that occur at Dordt remains a mystery, however. While Olson estimates that one to two cases of sexual assault are reported each year, she also said “it is happening more often than it is reported.”
Van De Griend agrees the issue is underreported: “I think it does happen on Dordt’s Campus but it is not reported.”
On Nov. 12, 2004, The Diamond wrote an article about a $197,172 grant Dordt received from the U.S. Department of Justice to fund the Safe Campus project, a school-wide effort to “educate the campus about violence against women.” The article stated that “not a single sexual assault or forcible rape [had] been reported within recent memory.” However, former professor Vanderwoerd conducted a student research project the year prior and found that 38.9 percent of women surveyed at northwest Iowa colleges reported that they had experienced sexual harassment either on campus or at some point in their lives.
Addressing the issues of rape culture and sexual assault at Dordt takes the effort of an entire community. Chaplain Aaron Baart said the institution is “really good at dealing with situations when they come” as the college goes “above and beyond in protecting a victim’s identity,” for instance. In terms of Dordt’s relationship with Sioux Center, Chief Adkins said that the college today is more proactive in reaching out to community resources. “They [Dordt] used to do it more ‘in-house,’ but they’ve contacted the police more in recent years,” Adkins said.
Adkins serves as the President of the Board of Directors at the Family Crisis Center in Sioux Center. This organization provides services to individuals in a variety of situations, from domestic violence to homicide cases to sexual assault. The FCC also operates the state’s first 24/7 statewide call center for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The FCC and CAASA are sister agencies who work together in 19 Iowa counties.
Services, though helpful and necessary, provide a reaction to the problem. In order to address the problems of sexual assault and rape culture head on, many suggest a more offensive approach.
“All of campus needs to be talking about it: First Mondays, wing events, anything really,” said Marta Vander Top, a senior theology major. In terms of starting a conversation around these topics, Vander Top said the social work department “does well with this” in the way it provides informational events such as the March 30 Q&A.
Professor Boer, who worked at a sexual abuse treatment center in Florida before returning Sioux Center, believes much of sexual abuse and assault can be avoided if children are taught to respect themselves at a young age. During her time in Florida, Boer found that “a lot of our girls lack a lot of assertion skills,” leaving them vulnerable to guys who would “schmooze ‘em, and they don’t know how to say no.” As such, she emphasizes the need to teach young girls about their bodies, sex and sexuality, as well as how to say “no” to potential perpetrators.
Part of that ‘saying no’ may involve self-defense, and as such an officer at Sioux Center police is currently being trained in self-defense. Adkins said he hopes the officer can start offering training to others soon.
In terms of Dordt’s administrative-to-student measures, Dean of Students Robert Taylor listed a variety of events for students on campus to attend: Doubt Night, Chocolate Hour, the Women of Promise Bible study and Baart’s chapels. Of those listed, Taylor said, “Chapel is probably the best” in terms of reaching a large audience with a message of Christ’s view towards sexuality.
In terms of healing, particularly, Baart is familiar with the intricacies of sexual assault cases. From seminary classes to addressing certain aspects of Title IX complaints to counseling to working with local service providers, Baart has a grasp on what it means to give assault victims the support they need while also gently moving them towards a place of peace.
To Baart, pornography is a huge influence in the world of sexual assault. Though the two are not directly correlated, individuals who view porn are much more likely to engage in violent sexual acts in the future, said Baart, because once people are addicted to porn they continue to seek more violent forms of it. Being passionate towards the subject, Baart and his wife Nicole present workshops on porn and sexting in local, public schools and Christian, private schools.
Baart gave one word of advice to those approached by a victim of sexual assault: “Listen.”
The tasks of counselors such as Baart or Boer may seem overwhelming. But in the March 30 Q&A Boer reassured attendees that knowing exactly what to say is not the most important part about helping someone heal. Instead, Boer said, “be someone that people can trust” and then be willing to trust in God.
When the girl mentioned in the video shown at the March 30 Q&A was asked what she wanted people to know about her situation, she said she wants people to know that it’s the job of parents and guardians and teachers to educate kids on what qualifies as appropriate behavior with others. This piece of information, she said, can prevent the hardships of many, starting at a young age.
Though the month of April is nearing its end, initiatives to end sexual assault have not stopped. Through the end of April, coffee shops throughout Sioux County are either giving all their tip money or all their earnings to CAASA to support survivors and raise awareness for sexual assault. For more information, contact CAASA at 1-877-362-4612.
Caeden Tinklenberg and other Diamond staff contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note: This article was reviewed and approved by the Dordt College Administrative Cabinet prior to being published.