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Sexual assault awareness starts with education

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Lindsey Pacela
Staff Writer

Editor’s Note : This story includes detailed information about sexual assault. 

Carson Bechtel is a 20-year-old sophomore political science major at the University of La Verne, who identifies as non-binary with the pronouns he/him and they/them. His personal story of being a victim of sexual assault and rape begins when he was made to leave his father’s home in Phoenix in 2019, when he was only 18.

Bechtel went to the only place he considered a refuge at the time, the home of his best friend, a female classmate, who was 19 at the time and lived across town. Betchel asked that the friend’s name not be used for this story. 

The incident began with the occasional sexual joke and innuendo flung at Bechtel, he said. He originally took it as flattery and brushed it off, trying to not put too much thought into it. Then the jokes became persistent flirtations, which Bechtel acknowledged and then communicated that he was not interested in pursuing a relationship. Although the friend acknowledged that, she continued the behavior, Bechtel said.

On a hot summer day, Bechtel went out with the friend to get tattoos and their acrylic nails done. As they finished at the salon, the friend’s brother offered to give them a ride home. The idea of an air conditioned ride instead of walking or even paying for an overpriced Uber was enticing after the long day. They got into the back seat of the car, and that’s when the brother offered them a hit of his bong. They accepted, but it was the beginning of a bad high for Bechtel that would last throughout the night, he said.

“My friend sat in the back of the car with me and offered me food and water, promising that I could sleep it off when we got home.” Bechtel said.

The friend asked to hold Bechtel in her arms in bed when they got home, Bechtel said, adding that his friend had a high tolerance for harder drugs such as cocaine, than the bong they had hit earlier.

The friend took Bechtel into her bed, trying to comfort him with her words. Then she began to touch him sexually, and the discomfort grew for Bechtel. He was nearly paralyzed from fear but the high from the bong earlier made things almost incomprehensible, he said. 

The friend only continued to tell him that everything would be fine. For Bechtel, things would not be fine. The events progressed from the assault to rape that night, Bechtel said. 

Consent is one of the most important parts of having sexual relations, John Bartelt, professor of education technology at the University of La Verne, said in a recent interview.

When one or both parties are under the influence of a narcotic, the idea of boundaries and consent can be misconstrued.

Just because the perpetrator and the victim in this incident were under the influence, doesn’t mean that perpetrator was innocent. 

According to a report titled “Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault” by the Sexual Assault Support Services at Carleton College, in 2021, 21 to 25 percent of all sexual assaults may involve the victim being drugged.

 “Consent is not given when individuals are sleeping, passed out, incoherent, staggering, resisting, not aware of their environment, or are unable to verbalize their consent due to intoxication,” the report found.

“You want your first time to be with someone you trust,” Bechtel said. “But it wasn’t romantic, and I wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible.” 

Bechtel confirmed that the event was completely non consensual for him.

“I knew women could rape, but I thought that couldn’t happen to me,” Bechtel said.

The typical story of rape that most people grow up hearing, is the one that takes place in a dark alleyway at night, one that is violent and random. Although, in 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Justice, the data suggested otherwise. 

It was found that while approximately 22 percent of rapes are by a stranger, 38 percent are by a friend or acquaintance, 34 percent by a former or current partner and six percent by a relative.

When it comes to statistics on assault cases for transgender people the numbers are astounding, according to a survey in 2011 by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. It found that in grades K-12, 78 percent of transgender people experience harassment, 35 percent experience physical assault, and 12 percent experience sexual violence.

“Only the people who have gone through it can truly understand it. That’s why it all goes back to education,” said Linda Bartelt, adjunct professor of education at the University of La Verne, said in the same interview with her husband, John Bartelt.

Rape is still widely believed to be preventable if one just avoids certain situations, Linda Bartelt explained, but the reality is that the majority of stories are so much different. 

There is an ample amount of victim blaming, for either dressing a certain way or allowing themselves to no longer remain sober, but the reality is that the sole blame must remain with the perpetrator.

The Bartelts co-teach teach human sexuality for students at the University in order to give perspectives from their two genders. They also speak at various seminars on gender, sexuality and consent.

After the rape, Bechtel continued living with the friend, believing at the time that the home was the only place for him to go. Their friendship progressed into an unhealthy and twisted relationship for the remainder of Bechtel’s five month stay, he said. He called it manipulative and a complete power dynamic.

In the United States, homelessness or housing discrimination among transgender individuals is high, according to the survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

The survey found that 19 percent of transgender individuals were refused a home or apartment, and 19 percent experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.

Those who experienced this were found to be highly vulnerable to mistreatment, including a majority or 55 percent attempting to access a homeless shelter, with 29 percent being turned away all together and 22 percent being sexually assaulted by residents or staff.

“I couldn’t turn her down because then she could just kick me out.” Bechtel said. “There was no respect for what I wanted, but I thought this was a relationship.

“A lot of my life I have been gaslit, suffered extreme external homophobia, and I always blamed myself for it,” Bechtel said, explaining how he thought the relationship had seemed logical at the time. 

The friend had a boyfriend while simultaneously using and abusing Bechtel, he said. When Bechtel would ask for some sort of explanation about the boyfriend, there would be a period of one to two weeks of silent treatment and or a complete stop to all sexual activity, quickly beginning it all again when the friend “became bored,” Bechtel said. 

The friend would constantly repeat to Bechtel his importance to her, especially when using Bechtel for sexual satisfaction, with chilling affirmations of: “This is my repayment to you,” and “I really do love you.”

The events that would consume Bechtel’s life for such a long period of time, with what seemed like no way out, almost brought him to suicide on multiple occasions, he said.

A few weeks before he finally left her, Bechtel received his acceptance letter to the University of La Verne in California. It was a small flicker of hope for Bechtel, he said.

“It was an endless cycle of ‘I love yous’ and ‘I never want you to leave mes’,” Bechtel said. 

He described the escape to be messy. It took two close friends and his mother to finally remove him from the house. He had not seen his mother for a long period after his parents’ difficult separation but his need for help would bring them back together for a moment, he said.

The entire process of leaving the former friend’s house took nearly three weeks. Leaving wasn’t even on his own accord, he said. If it has been up to him, Bechtel would have stayed for as long as possible. At the time, the relationship just made sense to him and the power dynamic was intense, he said.

Even though he was now safe with his mother, Bechtel still had continued contact through social media with the friend. This lasted for a few weeks until finally he was blocked by her. Without the help of his mother and friends, Bechtel would have had a much harder time trying to leave his perpetrator, he said.

According to the research study “RCT Testing Bystander Effectiveness to Reduce Violence” by the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, simple bystander training, “share(s) a philosophy that all members of the community have a role in preventing violence.”

Based on the data provided, they were able to prove that bystander training significantly decreased the number of sexual violence perpetration events by 17-21 percent in intervention versus control schools.

At the University of La Verne, bystander training as part of a larger program for safe and healthy communities training is mandatory for all new students, through the program Everfi.

Linda Bartelt said she believes that the training was important, and it is only a small piece of education that young adults should receive in order to prevent the crime of sexual assault.

“I would say that almost 90 percent of the students we teach don’t fully understand sexuality,” she said.

She added that there is not enough sex education in schools, which is linked to the lack of understanding of consent.

“Watching porn for education on sex is like watching ‘Fast and Furious’ to learn how to drive.” John Bartelt said, referring to how the lack of sex education often results in turning to more undesirable places for that information.

“We often tend to highlight the victims but not the perpetrators, but how can we expect people to understand when there is not enough education,” Linda Bartelt said.

Bechtel continued to suffer from emotional distress for a few months after the events that had taken place, while trying to recuperate through the use of trauma work with a professional.

He tried to continue therapy for some time after that, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it harder to receive the support he needed.

Since he began at the University, he has planned to continue partaking in emotional support services through the campus’s Counseling and Psychological Services Department.

But he said he does not plan to pursue legal action against his former friend.

“There is no evidence. And why rehash it when only .005 percent of perpetrators get convicted?” Bechtel said.

According to a 2017 report by the non-profit Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, out of every 1000 sexual assault, only 230 are reported to police, only 46 lead to arrest, nine get referred to prosecutors, five lead to felony conviction and four rapists will be incarcerated.

“Closure would be nice, but I don’t think it’s possible,” Bechtel said.

Although he does not plan to take legal action, he still thought his story was worth sharing, to emphasize that others who may have experienced similar events are not alone.

If you have experienced sexual assault at the University of La Verne, contact the Title IX office here, and the Counseling and Psychological Services office. For 24/7 help, the National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached at 1-800-656-4673.

Lindsey Pacela can be reached at lindsey.pacela@laverne.edu.

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