Q&A with Becka Meier: Your sense of safety has been shattered

Posted Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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Becka Meier, the clinical coordinator at the Women's Center of Tarrant County, supervises nine full-time therapists who provide free counseling for victims of rape and other crimes.

Meier, who joined the Women's Center 13 years ago, also consults with adult sex crimes detectives at the Arlington Police Department, and is a frequent lecturer on the topic of rape and acquaintance rape. The following are excerpts from a recent interview.

Star-Telegram: A lot of experts say that the trauma from acquaintance rape can be as profound, or more so, than in stranger rape. Do you agree with that?

Meier: The symptoms are pretty similar. They're going to go through similar kinds of things, difficulty eating, difficulty sleeping, difficulty going to the bathroom. People don't want to talk about that one, but that's common, and that's important, because you have to do it multiple times a day. But every time you are in the restroom you are uncovering the part of your body that was violated. Which speaks to the reality that it affects them every day, every night, multiple times a day. Of course there are a lot of issues with anxiety, issues with depression. It's very common to be easily startled, feeling unsafe to the point of checking the locks on your door fifty times before you go to bed even though you know it's locked, even though you weren't assaulted in your home, even though there is no logic behind that.

These symptoms are true of acquaintance rape too? Why is that?

It's more your sense of safety inside that has been shattered. Now you can't feel safe, no matter where you are and no matter how many times you check those locks. With acquaintance rape versus stranger, there is the added guilt for anything you wish you had done differently. What you wish you had seen in him; wish you had noticed and stopped before you got to a vulnerable place. You really start to second guess your judgment. If I can't trust that person, who can I trust, period? You are no longer comfortable and you certainly see lots of people as unsafe or potential victimizers in some way. That is crazy-making, because in your head you are constantly trying to figure out who you can trust and who you can't.

So the impact [of acquaintance rape] is huge, which I think people don't realize. They want to see it as sex that they didn't want, end of story. They don't realize how it impacts and affects them every day and every night for a very long time. If they get counseling, that can be shortened and that can be moved along, but I've never come across [an acquaintance rape victim] who didn't experience severe symptoms. It's so terrifying and it affects you on so many levels.

Why do so few rape victims report their assaults to authorities?

The number one reason, I think, is fear. They're afraid to report. They're afraid about how people are going to respond to them. They're afraid what people will think of them. They're afraid they won't be believed. They're embarrassed because, perhaps, they were in a vulnerable situation that they wish they hadn't been in, so they blame themselves. They're afraid other people will blame them, too.

Is it true that a person raped by a stranger is more likely to report?

I think so. There is not a stigma attached to that. No one is going to blame you if you are assaulted by a stranger. If you are assaulted by someone you know, there are concerns that people are going to ask the questions: 'What were you doing? Why did you trust this person?' There is tendency to victim blame. That doesn't happen with a stranger. Society doesn't question, 'Why were you out there walking when this person jumped you?' But society will very readily question, 'Why did you go to his apartment?' The vast majority of victims feel guilty.

You have spoken about your recent experience with a group of college students that seemed to make an impression on you. Could you describe that for our readers?

In an audience of over 100 college students, we had a very heated discussion, specifically about acquaintance rape. There were people in the audience, young men and young women, representing both sides of the story. The young men were bringing up, 'Well, what if they're both really drunk and they end up having sex and the next morning she cries rape? What does that mean?' I said, 'Well, in my experience, something happened that shouldn't have happened, that she was uncomfortable with. There are lots of ways to get back at somebody if you're mad at them. I don't know a young woman who wants to go through what happens when she outcries about sexual assault. I don't know many young women who willingly go through a rape exam, unless there is cause for that. And then what happens to them afterward, just the backlash they receive. So I don't think that's a fair argument.'

So they were arguing. 'Could the young man not be aware?' Sure, it's possible, especially if they're both very intoxicated. But I got very explicit with this young man. I said, 'Just imagine you're with a woman. You two are into each other. You're having a great time. You've both been drinking. That happens a lot. If at some point, she stops responding to you, or looks scared, or implies any kind of no, or says no, or I'm not ready. What happens to you? Do you feel more turned on by that experience or less?' The majority of the men in the audience said, 'Well, less. If she's not into me or she stops being into me, I'm not so into her.' That's what I tried to explain.

In that situation, [when a partner says no] there may be some trying to persuade. But the reality is, if she's no longer into it, or she gets scared, that's going to affect you in a certain way. It's not going to turn you on. It's not going to make you want to push further -- if you don't have those intentions -- if you haven't planned for that to be the case. If you had planned for that to be the case, and it is something that turns you on, then it's rape.

Did any of the male students react differently to that scenario?

One did, one raised his hand. He was getting a good chuckle out of it, he thought it was kind of comical. My hope is that eventually we can get to the place of recognizing, everybody recognizing these things, not just the young women who get it drilled into them for their own safety, but for everyone to recognize how common it is. And for men to hold other men accountable, to say, 'That's not okay.' That would be huge. That's the best chance we have for it not to be that way.

What else needs to happen?

Just constantly keeping the discussion going. At that university setting, it was a little more intense than [college officials] anticipated. The dean walked away and said, 'Wow, we have a lot of work to do.' I walked away with a totally different sense. Yes, there is work to be done, but, wow that work started today. To have that very difficult conversation among young people in a setting like that where they are debating, they are talking openly, that's huge.

Tim Madigan, (817) 390-7544; Twitter: @tsmadigan

About the series

Part 1: In Tarrant County, more than half of all acquaintance rape cases since 2008 have died behind the closed doors of a grand jury. National experts are shocked, victims outraged. Many wonder why justice isn’t being done.

Part 2: Meet the typical perpetrator of acquaintance rape. He’s not who you think he is.

Part 3: For the rape victims who report, a teddy bear and a lot of support.

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