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'So many times': Raising awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault

Updated: May 26, 2020

Story by Akhira Umar | Illustrations by Tory Stephenson | Video by Alaina Kwan

Shimmering highlight, rosy blush, pallets of peachy shadows. Hanger after hanger of lace, frills, prints, and sequins.

Hailey Poland rubs in her foundation and fills in her brows.

Elena Manauis curls her lashes and lays out her outfit.

Megan Monfredi contours her face and fixes her hair.

This is the routine, the weekend ritual. This is what going out looks like for these women and so many more.

South Limestone is a rite of passage for anyone freshly turned 21 on UK’s campus. Twenty-one is the golden age of horizontal licenses, legal drinking, and bar hopping.

And it was in Tin Roof, one of the staples of this street, that Alaina Kwan, newly 21, experienced a rather rude awakening while out with friends.

“There was this guy, completely drunk, shouldn’t have been in there, and we were just minding our own business, doing our own thing. And he thought it was okay to touch two of my friends’, um, basically their crotches. Like just plain as day,” Kwan said. “And I was taken aback because, like, I was like what makes you think that’s okay to do? And then it hit me. I was like, this has happened so many times to not only me but so many of my friends.”

This incident, and undoubtedly many others like it, spurred Kwan to make a video for a class assignment that called out sexual harassment and called on those who need to be educated about it. She admitted that until that moment, she too had been blind to the issue.

Through her video, Kwan shared the experiences of Poland, Manauis and Monfredi, who all described the unwanted attention they’ve received just from enjoying themselves with a night out.

Poland shared how conflicting these situations can be and the advances she has been through while in bars and clubs.

“Sometimes it feels good, you know, to feel like people think you look attractive and to be noticed. And at the same time, you just want to feel good for yourself. And men, they think it means something else, like it’s for them,” Poland said. “Pretty much every weekend any time you’re on the dance floor, guys will just grab you and grind up next to you. I’ve had guys, like, reach between my legs. I’ve had guys, you know, touch my boobs. Just weird things. Anywhere.”

And anywhere is exactly where sexual harassment can happen. Manauis experienced an advance once she left the bar and entered a place she thought she would be safe: an Uber.

“I knew I was looking a little more dressed up, maybe a little bit more feminine, a little bit more sexy than I usually do because I was out with friends. And he ended up making an advance at me,” Manauis said. “He tried to kiss me and I was actually super uncomfortable. I was in this car with this guy that I didn’t know because I was supposed to be able to trust that he was my Uber driver, he’s going to get me where I needed to go.”

Monfredi said when guys try to get at her, she either pushes them away or turns to guy friends to appear like she’s with someone else or to show she isn’t interested. Though she loves to look her best to feel her best, she said this isn’t necessarily to draw attention. Yet the unwanted attention comes anyway, causing her to doubt herself.

“It makes me question what I’m doing,” Monfredi said. “It makes me question what message I’m sending, and it makes all of us just wonder if we should even dress up that way, but it’s what makes us feel good so we want to.”

These women aren’t the only ones with this story.

A 2018 Stop Street Harassment Foundation survey found that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men had experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime. About three-quarters of these women said the harassment they received was in verbal form, half of them said they were touched or groped, and more than a quarter of them said they survived sexual assault. Comparatively, men reported 34 percent verbal, 17 percent groped, and seven percent assaulted.

The nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN, states on its website that women ages eighteen to twenty-four, specifically college women, are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted rather than robbed.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is defined by “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” in the workplace. RAINN states that “sexual harassment generally violates civil laws... but in many cases is not a criminal act, while sexual assault usually refers to acts that are criminal.”

This grey area between sexual harassment and sexual assault is why Kwan believes many people have been hesitant to speak up about their experiences. According to RAINN, only 20 percent of college women report sexual violence to law enforcement. Kwan said more needs to be done to better the situation, especially since she believes college is the “prime time to get taken advantage of.”

“At the end of the day, you can’t see everything and I totally get that,” Kwan said. “But that just shows you that you don’t know all that’s going on and so you don’t know how many times it’s happening. You don’t know how many girls are being affected by it. You don’t know how many girls that want to speak up about it but don’t know if it’s, like, okay to because they don’t know if it was actually that big of a deal.”

With the recent #MeToo movement creating new standards to battle sexual mistreatment, Kwan said she believes things are moving in the right direction, but it’s still not enough. She thinks this is especially true on college campuses, where sexual assaults and harassment have tried to be covered up. Considering the statistics stacked against women and the fact that women make up more than half of UK’s student enrollment, some concerns undoubtedly arise.

Poland expressed that on the occasions she does go out, she now drinks less and doesn’t let loose as much, while Manauis analyzes her surroundings more, especially when alone.

“That’s the scary part, I think, is that you can’t control other people,” Manauis said. “You can only control yourself. And I really think that it’s sad that some people try to blame the control that you have over yourself for the actions of other people, and I think that’s really, really messed up.”

Kwan said she believes it’s important to emphasize that no matter how done up and attention-grabbing a woman may appear, that is not an open invitation. There is no excuse to sexually harass or assault anyone, ever.

Though Kwan wishes she could protect the people around her and every girl out there, she knows that’s not possible. Instead, she hopes whoever sees her video has the same epiphany to become more aware and to help put an end to sexual harassment.

Poland had this to say to those who have ever committed such acts: “Think about your actions and how they affect others.”

“We aren’t objects and we deserve to be treated with respect,” Monfredi said. “Don’t be afraid to share your story. You never know who it could help.”

“This attitude of women have the right to control their own bodies and men don’t have a right to infringe upon it, it needs to be normalized. And unfortunately, it’s not, whether we like to say that it is or not, it’s really not,” Manauis said. “And until we’re able to establish that I think in society, I mean, what real change are we going to see?”


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