Isabel Hughes | Mustang News

In an effort to bring sexual assault and rape to the forefront of conversation at Cal Poly, English senior Amelia Meyerhoff is channeling her experience as a survivor as inspiration for her senior project, “The Clapback: An Investigation into the Sexual Assault and Rape Climate at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.” 

Meyerhoff said she was raped her sophomore year at Cal Poly. 

“I didn’t want to seek out legal support because I knew that I didn’t have the evidence, and when you go through something like that the last thing on your mind is taking photos of what happened and trying to frame your perpetrator, because you’re trying to just take care of yourself,” Meyerhoff said.

For her project, Meyerhoff interviewed sexual assault and rape survivors at Cal Poly and collected data in order to illustrate the prevalence of sexual assault and rape, and how it impacts survivors’ lives.

In addition to being a full-time student and working 15 hours a week at her job, Meyerhoff estimates that she dedicated 30 to 40 hours a week to the project.

“I want people to look at this project and realize that sexual assault and rape cannot be brushed under the rug anymore,” Meyerhoff said. “Participants in my study are done being silent on it. They’re very eager to share their stories. I want the project to be big enough that it’s unavoidable and you have to confront it.”

“Participants in my study are done being silent on it, they’re very eager to share their stories”

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males are raped or sexually assaulted through physical force, violence or incapacitation. Among transgender, genderqueer or nonconforming (TGQN) college students, 21 percent have been sexually assaulted, according to RAINN.

From 2015 to 2017, total reported sexual assaults, including rape, incest, fondling and statutory rape, increased by more than 50 percent at Cal Poly, according to the latest Annual Security Report.

Reported cases of sexual assault and rape, however, only represent a small fraction of the number of sexual assault cases that actually occur. According to RAINN, only 20 percent of female student victims age 18-24 report to law enforcement.

Safer, Cal Poly’s confidential advocacy, education and support resource for addressing sexual assault and sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking, has seen a 45 percent increase in utilization of Crisis and Advocacy services in the past three years, according to the Safer 2016-2017 Annual Report.

Meyerhoff said her motivation to execute this project also stems from her belief that there is a lack of support and resources for survivors of sexual assault and rape at Cal Poly.

“I think that in terms of the resources on this campus, such as Title IX and [University Police Department], they somewhat fail because they expect survivors to have a completely accurate account of what happened, which often is not the case with trauma,” Meyerhoff said. “You block some parts out because you don’t want to remember them or you might have been intoxicated and that’s essentially why I started the project.”

Meyerhoff said she thinks Safer is a great resource for survivors and thinks they are doing the best they can given the volume of people that come to them for support.

Since September, Meyerhoff has interviewed 25 survivors, including current students and alumni. She said her group of participants is diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.

Meyerhoff aims to interview at least 25 more participants by the end of Winter 2019. She plans to begin data analysis over spring break.

She said she hopes to present her findings to the Office of Equal Opportunity (Title IX), administration, fraternities and the student body this Spring in a variety of mediums, including a compilation of survivor stories distributed throughout campus.

Meyerhoff envisions a compilation of survivor stories with the symbol of a red handprint on the front page, which was used at Cal Poly to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault and rape in the past. The project will include a research paper component.

Meyerhoff said she has found it healing to speak with other survivors and hopes to cultivate a community of survivors that can support each other. Once the project is completed, Meyerhoff wants to have all the participants meet.

“I’m hoping that they can get to know each other and be able to help each other through the rest of their time here, because most of the participants are having a really hard time at Cal Poly,” Meyerhoff said.  

Meyerhoff added that she feels her perspective as a survivor makes her participants feel more comfortable and validated speaking about their own experiences as survivors.

Meyeroff encourages anyone who is a survivor of sexual assault or rape to reach out to her at ammeyerh@calpoly.edu if they would like to take part in her project.

“Whatever you’re going through is completely valid,” Meyerhoff said. “If you’re feeling low on self esteem, if you’re feeling objectified, if you’re feeling dehumanized — that is totally understandable. It takes time and a lot of healing, but I think that speaking out about it in a format like this, where you’re very validated and supported, is a great way to empower yourself.”

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