On college campuses, most sexual assaults take place at the beginning of the school year, also known as the “Red Zone.” When you’re in a new place, surrounded by new people and experiences, what should you know about how to take care of yourself and your friends?
Sen. Leahy: Well, then let's go back to the incident. What is the strongest memory you have? Strongest memory of the incident. Something you cannot forget. Take whatever time you need.
Dr. Blasey Ford: Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the la—, the uproarious laughter between the two and their having fun at my expense.
Sen. Leahy: You've never forgotten that laughter. Never forgotten them laughing at you.
Dr. Blasey Ford: They were laughing with each other.
Annie: I’m your host, Annie, and this is Indelible: a class, a podcast, and a conversation about sexual violence. In the fall of 2019, fourteen students from Ball State University set out on an immersive learning project with creative writing professor Jill Christman. We named ourselves Indelible, after the words of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Just a head’s up: this episode includes the description of a sexual assault, so we encourage you to take breaks as you need them.
Together, the fifteen of us are working to learn as much as we can—and maybe even figure out some ways to make a change. As we listened to survivors, we realized that every assault leaves an indelible mark, a memory that cannot be erased. As a class and a podcast, we want to ensure that the brave survivors who tell their stories are heard, valued, and believed. We started by listening.
Our reporters went down to the busiest intersection on Ball State’s campus to ask students how much they knew.
Jenna: How many people do you guys know that have been survivors of sexual assault?
Student 3: Oh God.
Student 4: Too many to count.
Student 3: Yeah, yeah. Mostly females, but more that I've got to college, like at least one in four of my friends.
Student 4: Five.
Student 6: Probably about three to five. And I've noticed that it's drastically increased since I've gotten to campus.
Student 7: I don't know the specific instance and I don't know like the circumstances around it, but probably know fifteen, twenty people that are victims of sexual assault to be honest with you.
Student 9: Oh, I can't even count. I mean, I honestly, I couldn't even count. I have no idea.
Annie: As we took a deep-dive into the research, we realized statistics about sexual violence are slippery. It can be hard to measure such a complex issue. But we found a consistent and disturbing truth on paper and on the streets: sexual violence on college campuses has been a serious issue for decades. And it still is. We believe real change comes from real conversations. Right now we’re riding the wave that MeToo started. We need to keep that momentum going by continuing to talk about this. So let’s talk about it.
Jordan: Yeah it's hard, but if it's going to help reach out to people, I'll talk about it.
Jordan: It just breaks my heart that I had to go through that as a freshman, but it's also sad that many other women have to go through that too.
Annie: In this episode, we’re going to focus on beginnings. The beginning of college, when freshmen have just arrived on campus and have no idea what’s going on. The beginning of one student’s college experience, which was torn apart before classes even started. And, of course, the beginning of Indelible.
Hannah: Do you guys know what the “Red Zone” is?
Student 10: Isn't it inside the 20 yard line? I'm just kidding.
Hannah: Do you guys know?
Student 11: We learned about it in class, but I can't remember.
Hannah: Do you know what the “Red Zone” is?
Student 2: No.
Student 12: The “Red Zone.” Ummm. I'm not too sure.
Annie: Some say it’s the first six or twelve weeks of the school year, while others say it’s between the first day on campus and Thanksgiving break, but whatever definition you go by, the main idea is the same. When you’re talking about sexual violence instead of football, the Red Zone is the time at the beginning of the school year when most assaults happen. To tell us a bit more, we invited Kelly Schweda, the director of the Prevention, Outreach, and Education Department at Michigan State University.
Kelly: August, September, October are the really high higher risk months for students. And there's a lot of reasons for that. Students are more vulnerable because they are away from their safe areas and they're branched out into new areas of campus. And there's a lot of new experiences and new things that people are around campus doing.
Jordan: So, I remember they had Fireball and literally I filled my water bottle up with Fireball, the whole water bottle, and didn't think anything of it. I didn't really know about tolerance and stuff like that.
Annie: This is Jordan. She asked to share the story of her sexual assault over a phone interview, so her voice might sound a little fuzzy. We also want to add that Jordan’s name isn’t really Jordan. We aren’t using her real name or any identifying details, and we’ll do the same for every survivor we interview.
Jordan: It was my freshman year. I was so excited about being independent, a new start, making new friends, you know, meeting cute guys, all that stuff. So I had to come a week earlier ‘cause I was a freshman and then upper class were going to come after that, so I made a little group of friends and all that.
Annie: Sound familiar? A student fresh out of high school, excited to embrace her newfound freedom and let loose at some real college parties.
Jordan: We were in the dorm and we had began to pregame. And this was the first time I ever drank alcohol. It was exciting to me and everyone was excited ‘cause they're like, everyone wants to get the person that never drinks to get drunk, basically.
Annie: Then Jordan described a stereotypical college night. On syllabus eve, before classes had even started, she and her new friends walked around campus looking for parties to check out. Outside of one party, Jordan noticed a guy watching her.
Jordan: Him and his friend followed us in, the guy introduced himself, I don't really remember his name now, but, yeah, but he asked me how old I was. I said I was 18. I asked how old he was, he said he was 23. He asked if I was a freshman. I shamefully said yes. He made fun of me for being, like, a baby and being young, and I had to try to prove myself that I wasn't. Basically that I wasn't lame or whatever. He told me to drink some tequila. He had a bottle of tequila with him, and basically to drink if I'm as down as I say I am. I don't want to seem like I was wasn't cool. I chugged it and they handed it back and him and his friends looked impressed.
Annie: Alcohol is a big issue when it comes to sexual assault. Here’s Kelly Schweda to tell us more.
Kelly Schweda: So I know that alcohol is considered the number one sexual assault drug on any campus. And the perpetrators do have a tendency to migrate towards people that are more vulnerable and that includes people that are becoming incapacitated or are drinking very heavily.
Jordan: That's when things started getting real blurry and I started blacking in and out. I remember at one point I was dancing on the guy and I believe we had started kissing but then after that pretty much things went black.
Annie: The next thing Jordan remembers was being in pain and unable to move. She heard her roommate’s frantic voice in another room, as if she was trying to get to Jordan, and then male voices replied. Jordan remembers the word, “cockblocker.” The next clear phrase she heard was, “campus police,” and people scattered from the apartment.
Jordan: I heard my roommate come in and she's telling me, put my clothes on. I'm confused at this point. She kinda helped me put my clothes on and kept asking me if it was consensual. And after I tried to put two and two together and so we head to the bathroom, I looked down and I basically seen blood just everywhere. And then I started, finally, to realize what just happened and then just started freaking out and bawling.
Annie: After that, Jordan kept blacking in and out and only remembers fragments of what happened. Luckily, the friends who found her helped her get to a safe place.
Jordan: The next thing I remember I am at the hospital. Blacked out. I remember waking up in the hospital and they're telling me, did I want to contact my parents? And I was like, “Aw, well,” and then I realized I didn't have my phone, so I just guess I left it so someone gave me their phone. So I called my mom and told her what happened. And I know she lives around three hours from the school I went to at the time. So I didn't think she was going to really come but when I blacked out, I came back to my senses, she was there. I'm like, dang. I blacked out for a few hours, came back.
Annie: It was very late at night by this point, and Jordan was finally able to stay conscious and talk again. The police came to speak with her.
Jordan: They asked if I wanted to put on charges on him. And then at that moment I realized that it was all real and I had to make a huge decision all at that moment and I didn't even know if I was ready for. I did end up saying yes ‘cause in my head I just thought, oh I don't want what he did to me to happen to someone else.
Annie: Deciding to go through with a police report is hard to begin with, but Jordan says the police who spoke with her that night made it even harder.
Jordan: I didn't know what victim blaming was at the time, but it truly turns my stomach when I think of the questions that I was asked I'm just like, really? One of the questions I was asked is what was I wearing that night? Like what? What does that have to do with what just happened? But when he asked me that question I immediately felt shame, like it was my fault. I was just like, yeah I wore a crop top and leggings. But was that—like, looking slutty, was that me asking for it?
Annie: In our culture, victim blaming runs deep. Even police officers might speculate about what the victim was doing or wearing that might have somehow caused an attack, rather than placing all the blame where it belongs: on the perpetrator of a violent crime. The questions the police asked Jordan made it seem like they weren’t on her side. But that wasn’t even the worst part.
Jordan: Like, but yes, after a series of questions they informed me that all the video footage that was taken and got deleted. and I was like what? Whoa. Yeah. And I was like video footage? And they inform me that there was guys in the room while it was happening and they were recording. And I was just like, I just felt my stomach, just sink. Just like, wow, there was literally people in the room. But the part that messed with me the most was instead of helping me, they thought it was okay to record it. That's what still shocks me.
Annie: This was Jordan’s indelible moment. She can’t forget the fact that even though she was surrounded by people, no one was willing to step in and help her.
Jordan: It still shocks me that it was multiple people in a room and they, no, not one person was like, let's help her. They just, they laughed about it and recorded it. So that's—it's something I still can't really put my mind around cause I can't relate to that. It just lets you know that with the whole bystander intervention thing, it needs to be taken serious, don't just be a bystander because it was so many bystanders and not one person was like, well, let me do something about it.
Annie: The main idea of bystander intervention is someone from outside a potentially dangerous situation stopping and helping others. This could include helping someone who is drunk get home safely or using the buddy system. One of Kelly’s primary responsibilities is educating students and faculty on bystander intervention.
Kelly: Teaching students how to navigate those spaces and how to hold each other accountable when you see things like that happening on campus. Intervening even small things, like a rape joke or a violent comment. Because even small things can feed a climate that can perpetuate violence against someone else.
Annie: And that climate of violence doesn’t end with just the incident. The culture of sexual assault is so endemic that it ripples into our hospitals, our police system, and our courts. Based on a lack of evidence, Jordan’s case failed to make it to court.
Jordan: The real blow was basically when I got called in to see if my case could make it to court, I think it took like five months of them investigating, they told me that they couldn't take my case to court because of the lack of evidence. But it's actually just baffling because with all the evidence they had, I don't even know how that was lack of evidence ‘cause they have multiple statements of people saying that they seen my limp body being manipulated and tossed around by the perpetrators. The door was literally wide open when the assault was happening. They have the statement saying that they saw what happened. I have physical evidence because I was literally ripped horribly down there, which is why it was so much blood and they said that that could have been a result of rough sex. I'm like, okay, I don't know what could have made this evidence valuable to y'all. I didn't really understand.
Annie: Jordan later found out who her assaulters were. The men who were in the room that night, laughing and jeering while they took videos of an 18-year-old girl being raped, were members of her university’s football team.
Jordan: I instantly felt stupid because I had made the cheerleading team and cheered for the football team. I was like, wow, Whoa. I would cheer for y'all, like are you serious? I just felt so stupid. It was—it was sick.
Annie: Research has found that college athletics can be a breeding ground for toxic masculinity, and that universities make a lot of money from their athletes. This makes colleges eager to sweep these cases under the rug to avoid losing valuable players.
Jordan: But yeah, once they told me they were dropping the case because of lack of evidence, that's when I finally realized that there really isn't justice for victims of sexual assault. You could really have valid evidence, but if you're not half-dead they're not really consider it as in an assault. But even then, you already see with cases like what Brock Turner or something like that. Even if something is dangerous and deadly, they barely get in trouble, if they do at all.
Annie: Jordan’s story is hard to hear. She was hurt not only by her rapist but by her peers, the police, and the system that was supposed to help her. That’s one of the central facets of rape culture. Survivors should be heard and helped, but instead, their stories are frequently dismissed and they’re left without justice. Meanwhile, perpetrators walk free. Out of every one thousand assaults, only five perpetrators will face prison time. But for survivors, there is life after a traumatic event, and it’s important to remember that. Healing is possible, and there are resources to help survivors wherever they are in their journeys. After we heard Jordan’s story, we wanted to know what she would say to other incoming freshmen.
Jordan: Okay. A word of advice. What advice I would give is you don't have to impress nobody, just be yourself and always, always come with a group of friends and do not let that friend like disappear. Cause I don't know what happened with me and my roommate, but I clearly disappeared and she found out later. So stick with your group who you come with. Do not separate from them. And do not fill up a whole bottle with alcohol. Do not binge drink crazy. Like I know like this all new to you and all that stuff, but just do not, do not get super wasted. Please don't.
Annie: These are two pieces of advice you’ve probably heard before: stay with a group and don’t drink too much. It’s good advice to follow, and it’s especially meaningful coming from Jordan. However, it’s also important to talk about victim-blaming. Survivors of sexual violence are constantly treated as if they’re the ones who committed a crime.
Kelly: One of the things you hear more commonly when people give a list of things to stay safe, it's, you know, stay with your friends at parties, and don't drink to excess. I think when people come to campus, and sometimes they're gonna make bad choices, but they should have the freedom to be able to make any kind of a choice that they want to make and not be assaulted in the process.
Annie: Every person deserves to be safe, no matter what. Whether someone makes good choices or bad choices, they still don’t deserve to be sexually assaulted. Not ever.
Kelly: But, you know, it's really important that when we have these conversations, we don't just give a laundry list of things to stay safe. We actually put it where it belongs, which is on the person actually doing the crime.
Annie: Let’s head onto Ball State’s campus, where this whole podcast began, to hear what other college students have to say.
Jenna: What would you have liked to know about rape culture before coming to campus?
Student 3: The statistics and what the school does about it and what the school does for certain instances. I would've liked to know that.
Student 4: And then how to help your friend. Because I mean, if you're a freshman on campus and it happens day one or two to one of your friends, you literally don't know what to do and you don't know what resources you have. And I think the fact they also don't talk about it in high school. You're not prepared at all. You have to learn everything in a few days.
Marissa: Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen during the “Red Zone” time?
Student 13: I think the best thing you can do is make sure you know what resources you have at your disposal if, God forbid, something happened.
Student 14: Definitely know your rights.
Student 16: I definitely just want them to speak up, for sure. Don't be afraid to speak up.
Annie: Don’t be afraid to speak up. That’s our message, from start to finish. Talking about this stuff can be difficult, but it’s important to have these conversations about sexual violence and recognize the indelible mark it leaves. This is the heart of Indelible’s belief: the only way rape culture will ever improve is if we talk about it—and never shut up.
Annie: And with that, this episode of beginnings is coming to its end. For this last bit, I’m going to hand you over to our professor and the show’s executive producer, Jill Christman. Thanks, Jill.
Jill: Thanks, Annie, and thank you all for listening.
Be sure to visit us at indelible podcast dot com for information about our class and this podcast, as well as resources for getting involved—or getting help. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, help is available at rainn.org—that’s rainn.org—or at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website: nsvrc.org. You can call 1.800.656.4673 for free, confidential support 24/7.
All students should learn the difference between confidential and non-confidential resources on their own campuses as well as who to call in a crisis. We break this down for you on our website, but take some time now to review your own university’s website on sexual assault awareness and prevention. Most universities will have an office for victim services: the victim advocates who staff those offices are not typically required to report details of an assault. Because these professionals can help you get the support you need and explain your options in terms of reporting, that office is a good place to start when you’re ready to talk. Most importantly, remember that help is available. You are not alone.
Indelible would never have been possible without the hard work of each and every one of our students. To the amazing human being we know as Jordan: thank you for lending your voice to this conversation. To our guest expert Kelly Schweda, thank you for the hard work you do at Michigan State University. And to Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford: we believe you. We are with you. Thank you for your courage.
To our soundtrack composers, Stephen Fernung, Malik Brown, and our own in-house composer Bekah: thank you for your music.
Thanks also to the reporters in today’s episode: Marissa, Jenna, and Hannah. And to our script writers: Bekah and Jonah.
Podcast waves of gratitude to our community partners: The Facing Project and Jana’s Campaign.
And thanks to Lantigua Williams & Co. for editorial and production consultation.
Indelible is made possible by the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry at Ball State University. Once again, be sure to visit us at indelible podcast dot com
Treat yourself with gentleness today.
I’m Jill Christman, and this has been Indelible.