KOKOMO, Ind. — We will listen. We will believe. And we will support you.
With a unanimous show of hands, and then by standing, those attending the Why I Didn’t Report panel discussion at Indiana University Kokomo pledged their support to survivors of sexual assault.
Senior Elena Cadenaz planned the event to encourage victims to tell their stories, educate those around them, and to listen and offer support. It was a personal mission for her.
I’m a survivor and I wanted someone else to be able to report in the ways I never did,” the Peru resident said. “This was for everyone who has never reported their assault and needs or wants to. I also wanted survivors to know that reporting doesn’t have to be a police report or pressing charges. Sometimes it’s enough to have someone else just listen and believe your story.”
As an intern working with Heidi Wright, the Family Service Association of Howard County’s sexual assault advocate, Cadenaz heard the questions raised when stories came out in the media about victims stepping forward years after an assault. She was dismayed by reactions, as people cast doubt because of the length of time.
Christina Romero Ivanova, assistant professor of education, represented survivors, saying she was assaulted from the age of 5 until she was 21, by her mother’s boyfriends and other family members.
That’s the first time I think I’ve said it out loud,” she said, adding she didn’t tell anyone because “I was really afraid no one would believe me.” Her own mother did not believe her, she added, leading her to keep it to herself from then on. She wondered if she was somehow to blame, which she now knows is not the truth.
She asked everyone in the audience to raise their hands if they would believe a friend who said he or she was sexually assaulted, and then asked them to stand if they should stand by that person. Everyone in the audience stood, with hands raised, and Romero Ivanova said that kind of support is critical.
It’s important to tell someone, for healing and closure,” she said.
Senior Meaghan Ehle hopes that more education means more people offering support to survivors, and taking them seriously.
We as a community and as a society need to take into account how important this is, and realize there are more people affected by this than we know,” Ehle said. “We need to listen to each other, and take care of each other.”
As a former intern for the FSA domestic violence shelter, senior Travis Besser said it’s important for people to know how pervasive the problems of sexual assault and violence are, and what they can do to help. Men who are victims also need to know it’s OK to report.
We need to remove the stigma,” Besser said. “We have more places to help animals than we do for domestic violence survivors. It doesn’t seem to be taken seriously. Having these avenues, and allowing people to see there are people out there who will help them, will make a difference.”
Other members of the panel shared insight, including Beth Barnett, director of counseling services at IU Kokomo, who talked about the psychological aftermath of assault, and how that impacts the way they tell their stories, which can lead to those stories not being believed. Brandi Christiansen, executive director of Mental Health America of North Central Indiana, shared statistics regarding assault in the military and among those in the LGBTQ+ community.
Burton Patterson, rape prevention education coordinator for the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault, shared why male victims of sexual assault often don’t report, while Detective Sgt. Kimberly Minor from the IU Police Department at IUPUI, discussed how law enforcement officials can support survivors when they report.
Minor said traditional investigation techniques victimize survivors all over again, as they are forced to tell their stories multiple times. Many don’t remember details all at once, and when they add them later, can be accused of changing their stories. They’re also scrutinized if they don’t fight back, even though most freeze in the moment and cannot defend themselves.
Trauma-informed victim care is key, she said, so law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges understand the psychological reasons why survivors respond the way they do.Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.