Today, the issue of campus sexual assault has hit the mainstream. In the 21st century, we talk about enthusiastic consent, navigating gray spaces, and social relationships that may complicate a sexual assault. We know that the vast majority of rapes are committed by someone who knows their victim.
But 20 years ago, that idea was baffling. The BBC has an interview with Katie Koestner, who, in 1990, launched the term “date rape” into the public lexicon when she went public with her story of sexual assault by a date who appeared to be her “Prince Charming.”
In her first week at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, Koestner, then 18, met another student who asked her out to dinner at a fancy restaurant. She was impressed and attracted to him. After dinner, she invited him back to her dorm room in a women-only residence. He raped her in her dorm.
In the aftermath, no one believed it was rape. The other student thought that it was the beginning of a relationship; he left her voicemails saying he loved her. Koestner's father told her that it wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t let him into her room and hung up on her. Even though she pursued a sexual misconduct hearing through the school and the other student was found guilty, the dean of the university told Koestner that they made a nice couple and she should consider getting back together with him.
“In 1990, rape was still stranger rape,” Koestner wrote. “It was not about people you liked or you were dating. People said you could be raped by someone off the street, they said, ‘Park where it's well lit, don't walk alone.’ I knew all those things. My dad gave me pepper spray when I went to college. I didn't wear it around my neck on a date, though.”
One comment from her story is still familiar today. “The presumption was men who committed rape could never be well-educated, affluent, or talented at sports,” she wrote.
It’s a bias that's still common for many. High-profile cases have accused schools of protecting alleged accusers at the expense of victims and more than 100 colleges are being investigated by federal authorities for their handling of sexual assault cases. In the legal court system, the sentencing of a Stanford University student convicted of sexual assault drew public outrage when he was sentenced to only six months in jail out of a possible 14 years. His victim spoke publicly about seeing his swim times listed in a story about the assault.
In the aftermath of her assault, Koestner wrote a public letter about her experience, which she sent to a local newspaper. That letter got picked up by other media and her story went nationwide. She ended up on the cover of Time magazine and the nation began a new discussion about rape and consent. After her assault, Koestner began advocating for better awareness of rape and rape victims. Today, she still advocates with the Take Back The Night Foundation and on social media.
You can read the full interview with Koestner at the BBC’s website.
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