From trick-or-treating with my sisters, dressing up as some of my favorite characters, and watching Hocus Pocus to the point of memorization, some of my happiest memories from childhood are related to Halloween. Unfortunately, the magic of Halloween may fade as we get older, and the truth behind some of the horrors of Halloween is scarier than any child could imagine.
When I was 19 years old, I was sexually assaulted at a Halloween party. Since I wasn’t penetrated, I refer to myself as a sexual assault survivor instead of a rape survivor. I won’t get into detail about the incident, but those few seconds were terrifying. I’m very grateful that I was able to escape my assailant before the situation got worse.
At the time of my assault, my life was a mess, so I unconsciously repressed my assault for a year and a half. The next Halloween, I went out to a party and had to leave within the first hour because of a panic attack. I’d had panic attacks before, but I’d never had one that made me feel like I would crawl out of my skin if I didn’t leave that party as fast as I possibly could. Over the next few years, my anxiety and depression would skyrocket in the days leading up to Halloween. It broke my heart because Halloween had always been a favorite holiday of mine, but the thought of going out on Halloween made me nauseous with anxiety. I once went as far as putting my costume and makeup on before deciding to stay in right before I was supposed to leave.
Over the next few years, my anxiety and depression would skyrocket in the days leading up to Halloween.
Two years ago, I realized I had to reclaim my love for the holiday and force myself to go out on Halloween. I’ve done this for the past few years, and it’s always rewarding and empowering to get dressed up and go out knowing that I was reclaiming my love for Halloween. Since I can’t go to a bar or restaurant this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, I plan on spending Halloween at my sister’s apartment to eat, drink, and watch Hocus Pocus (I know she’s reading this, and yes, this is my way of telling her that we’re watching Hocus Pocus).
Unfortunately, my story isn’t unique — the rates of sexual assault and harassment on college campuses go up on Halloween.
What the Statistics Say
On college campuses, Halloween comes at a stressful time of the semester. Midterms are over, and the homestretch to finals has begun, making Halloween the perfect chance to dress up, have fun, and blow off some steam. More students are out partying than during the average weekend, increasing the risk of sexual assault.
According to the Colorado State University public safety team, “Our campus statistics show that Halloween weekend accounts for 5-7 percent of all cases that go through our Student Conduct System. Last year, over the days just before, during and after Halloween weekend, 168 students were referred to Student Conduct...for poor student conduct including alcohol infractions, sexual misconduct including sexual assault and uninvited touching, physical assault, vandalism, false IDs, obstructing a peace officer, and public urination.”
11% of college students experience sexual violence in their college tenure.
According to The Pitt News, “The prevalence of unsolicited sexual harassment and catcalling does not go away just because we dress like goblins or ghosts — in fact, it probably gets worse. It’s sad that on a should-be harmless day of dressing up in spooky costumes, the dangers of real life still pervade — and even more frequently and perniciously.”
Troubling statistics include that 11% of college students experience sexual violence in their college tenure, the majority of campus sexual assaults occur in the fall semester, and alcohol consumption is a factor in the majority of campus sexual assault cases (though it NEVER excuses the violent behavior of the assailant).
When it comes to going out on Halloween on a college campus, it’s important to know how to keep yourself safe.
How To Keep Yourself Safe
I want to make one thing very clear: nobody deserves to get sexually assaulted. It doesn’t matter what you're wearing or how much you had to drink. The blame is entirely on the assailant, and there’s no excuse for his or her violent behavior. To all sexual assault and rape survivors reading this, never forget that it’s not your fault.
This doesn’t mean we can’t discount the fact that there are ways to keep ourselves safe on Halloween. These tips should be used whenever you go out, but you should take extra precaution on a night when the number of assaults is higher than usual.
Make sure to use the buddy system and always go out with a group of girlfriends. If you’re going to drink, know your limits, and make sure that you never take your eyes off your drink. Avoid talking to strangers as much as possible, and listen to your gut instinct if you feel like something is wrong. It’s much better to be safe than sorry.
Make sure to use the buddy system and exercise prudence in drinking.
If you are sexually assaulted, it’s important to know and utilize your resources. It’s important to have someone to talk to. If you’re not comfortable telling someone close to you just yet, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. If you decide to report your assault after it happens, the two most important things to remember are to confide in someone you trust and to avoid showering (no matter how much you want to) if you need to get a rape kit done. This is important to collect as much evidence as possible, especially if you want to press charges. Unfortunately, not every ER has rape kits or trained advocates available, so just be aware you might have to go to a second hospital.
The decision to report and/or press charges is entirely up to you. The most important things to remember are that you’re not alone and it wasn’t your fault. I would highly recommend seeing a therapist or talking to a trusted loved one about how to move forward in your healing process.
The prevalence of sexual assault on Halloween, especially on college campuses, is scarier than any Halloween movie. However, it’s important to remember this to keep yourself safe and have fun on Halloween. It’s also important to remember that it’s never your fault if you’re sexually assaulted, and you’re not alone.