Years before a rape at Stanford University sparked outrage, a group of students on the other side of the country had been raising awareness about sexual violence by offering survivors a safe place to share their stories.
In the Stanford case, a former college swimmer received just six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman after a frat party last year. The light sentence, plus a powerful impact statement written by the survivor that's gone viral, have prompted calls for the judge to resign.
According to members of the “It Happens Here” project, which was launched in 2011 to help students of Vermont's Middlebury College anonymously share personal experiences of sexual assault, rape and interpersonal violence, survivors of such attacks rarely get to have their voices heard.
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“A lot of people are speaking about the Stanford survivor, but ultimately that person first got to speak for themselves and that is not something that often happens in judicial processes or in criminal court cases,” IHH organizer Maddie Orcutt told NBC News.
The group wants to change that. It has collected more than 80 heart-wrenching stories: Some are posted on the group's website, and others are read publicly at events held on campus and at other colleges.
According to a White House taskforce, one in five women is sexually assaulted in college. Through telling their stories, IHH hopes to highlight the prevalence and severity of sexual violence on campuses.
“There’s basically no class, no social situation where you do not have a survivor in it because that’s how prevalent this is nowadays. I think the magnitude of the problem is overwhelming,” Orcutt said.
The website features deeply personal and graphic accounts of assaults, such as one student recalling her attacker telling her to not "even bother trying to report this."
"You’re too drunk – nobody is going to take it seriously,’” she wrote she was told.
IHH has branched out to help students at four other campuses, and hopes to spread to more colleges nationally.
“Dealing with this problem is going to take some sustained and creative problem-solving, and I think one of the ways we can do that is through really hearing survivors,” Orcutt said.