This is a commentary by Ms. Elaine Wilson, who writes for the Fort Sam Houston
Public Information Office.

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Army News Service, April 16, 2007) - It was Friday night and, as usual, a tight-knit group of girls met outside of their college dorm to make plans. They were headed to a fraternity party, but decided last minute to meet up with some guys one of the girls knew from high school.

The girl, "Sue," had a crush on one of the guys, so she'd talked her buddies into going to their apartment. So, with stiff 1980s Aquanetted hair and too-low-cut tops, the freshmen walked the mile to the apartment, giggling all the way.

The men were, of course, thrilled to have the college girls over. They turned on the radio and popped the tops off of some beers and the group drank, laughed and flirted. Now slightly buzzed, Sue drifted off with her crush into a bedroom.

It got hot and heavy, she later said. They made out for a while and then, when Sue felt like it was getting too hot, she decided to leave the room and hang with her friends.
He, on the other hand, had different plans. He pinned her down, fondled her and tried to rape her. She said no and he ignored her. She fought him and ran out into the hall crying.

The girls left, but Sue didn't say much on the walk home. "You shouldn't have let things get that far," they told her. "It wasn't just his fault."

Although he didn't rape her, the incident scarred her. Her self-esteem dipped and her friends' words haunted her for years. Maybe I should have dressed differently or shouldn't have led him on, she thought. Maybe it was my fault'

She was wrong. It had nothing to do with the way she dressed or the amount of kissing she did. The man she was with sexually assaulted her. But like thousands of other victims, Sue blamed herself. And the man walked away.

Women are taught to avoid dark alleys and dimly lit parking lots to avoid "stranger danger." But they're not taught to avoid the offenders that may be a friend, boyfriend or even a relative. Rape by a stranger can happen, but it's much more likely to be a date or acquaintance. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, about two-thirds of sexual assault victims in the United States knew their assailants.

And, it is predicted that one in seven college women will be raped before graduation, and 90 percent will know their attacker, according to the University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center Web site.

Sexual assault is intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent, according to the U.S. Army Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Web site. The term includes rape; nonconsensual sodomy, whether oral or anal sex; indecent assault, which is unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact or fondling; or attempts to commits these acts.

Bottom line for potential offenders is "no" means "no," whether the victim is making out with them, had sex with them in the past or is dressed provocatively.

While sexual assault can't always be avoided, there are steps you can take to prevent from becoming a victim. The Army's SAPR Program Web site recommends people be assertive; be prepared, travel with a friend and stay sober; and be alert, if you sense trouble, get to a safe place as soon as possible.

According to the Acting Secretary of the Army's Task Force Report on Sexual Assault Policies, from 1999 to 2004, 67 percent of the sexual assaults involving Army personnel occurred on post. Call the police if you see any unauthorized or suspicious males or females in the barracks.

Sexual assault is a criminal offense punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice as well as the federal and civilian legal systems. It is also the most under reported crime in society and in the military, according to the Army SAPR Program Web site. If that trend continues, offenders will never be brought to justice. And, they will find another victim.

Nearly 20 years ago, that victim was me. I am "Sue." I have gotten past the shame of that night, but I'll never get over the fact that I just walked away shouldering the blame for someone else. I knew dozens of girls in college who had been date raped or forced to do a sexual act against their will. But, in many cases, the blame was misplaced on the victim for putting herself in a bad position or dressing a certain way. If you know someone who has been sexually assaulted, be a friend. Encourage her (or him) to report the crime and seek help. In the military, servicemembers have restricted and unrestricted reporting options. With restricted reporting, victims can seek help without launching an investigative process.

If the victim was you, remember: you are not to blame even if you were drinking or you were with someone you know. Seek help so you can start the healing process.

For more information, visit the SAPR Program Web site at or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE.

(Ms. Elaine Wilson writes for the Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office.)