After eight years of gathering data regarding sexual violence on college campuses, the Obama administration implemented It’s On Us. The organization has now reached nearly 1,000 universities and strives to rectify the country’s rape culture.
When It’s On Us came to the University of Utah, it was run by the student government. In July 2018, Christina Bargelt, 22, became acting president of It’s On Us. “I’m a survivor, and my goal is really just to help fix the things that are fixable,” Bargelt said in a phone interview. “I deserve better and so do other survivors.” Using this objective to fuel her, Bargelt has already made strides to prevent and help victims of sexual violence.
After her third and most brutal assault involving a member of the U’s Greek community, Bargelt said that it was time for her to make a change. An investigation that took longer to occur than she was initially told yielded a heartbreaking result: insufficient evidence. She then pursued a hearing that, yet again, took place almost three months late and had reached the same consensus. Bargelt took every necessary plan of action: she got a rape kit done, hired a lawyer, and had multiple other women testify on her behalf.
Despite her best efforts, Bargelt was defeated by the system. She joined part of the 33 percent of people who become suicidal within a month of their assault, and that feeling heightened when she knew that no legal action could be taken. Bargelt then decided to turn the most traumatic experience of her life into a positive one for others. “It made me lose faith and hope in this institution,” Bargelt said. “I could either wallow in self pity and hate this university, or I could take these things and grow from them so I could improve the lives of other survivors.”
Bargelt has completely transformed It’s On Us at the U. She has worked tirelessly to create relations with university administrators and many resources for victims of sexual violence. She said she forged good relationships with many of the people who helped her aftermath her assault. The Office of Equal Opportunity & Affirmative Action, the Women’s Resource Center, and other organizations have since paired up with It’s On Us. The most helpful resources for Bargelt after the assault, Victim/Survivor advocates, are now the organization’s main allies. She said, “I would not be the advocate I am today without them,” because they are an objective source that provides survivors with options. She has helped the OEO create a more transparent system, and personally speaks to roughly five new survivors each week.
Another issue with rape culture on college campuses is the discrepancy between male and female survivors. Men are often taught not to rape, and are rarely informed on resources or steps to take if they themselves are the victim. Bargelt has specifically gone to every sorority and fraternity in the U’s Greek system, and has given the exact same information about It’s On Us and rape recovery regardless of her audience’s genders. She said one of her goals as president is to destigmatize the notions surrounding male survivors.
In her mission to keep everyone, especially those involved in Greek life, informed, Bargelt gave presentations at each fraternity’s house. Ty Monroe, 19, was an avid listener when she visited his fraternity. Monroe left the Phi Delta Theta house that night with a whole new perspective. He said, “She really touched base on the fact that assaults are not specific to either males or females, it happens to both.” For some men, Bargelt’s presentations encouraged survivors to come forward. For many others, such as Monroe, the presentations offered a new viewpoint and increased acceptance for male survivors.
It is true that not as many men have experienced sexual violence as women, but that does not mean men are any less deserving of advocates. Many men are not believed or recognized once they come forward after an assault on them, and our country’s rape culture often perpetuates these notions and ostracizes male survivors.
Paul Eicker, 20, is a sophomore at the U who was raped by a girl during the fall of 2018. He said he did not press charges or seek investigation into his perpetrator because he immediately thought he would be looked down upon, called a liar, and lose support of friends and family. The fear of coming forward after an act of sexual violence is present in many survivors, but more so in men. “It took me about a month before I told anyone,” Eicker said. “People told me that I was making a big deal about nothing, and that men can’t be raped.” The reactions he got solidified his initial decision to take no further actions.
As the president of It’s On Us, Bargelt is adamant about being completely transparent in telling her story. Sexual assaults and rapes happen often on college campuses, and many people don’t know how big of a problem it is because it is rarely talked about. Bargelt is very open about her personal experience because hearing a story from another survivor frequently inspires others to come forward. Bargelt said that “part of the empowering part of being a survivor is now you have the agency to do something about it. You have the chance to give power back to yourself and you get to decide what your healing journey will be.”
In less than a year, Bargelt transformed the U into the nation’s most successful It’s On Us organization. She has laid out a 10-year plan, so even after she graduates from the U this May her legacy will live on. “I am very aggressive and do not give up on people or projects that I believe in,” she said, and she has confidence that whoever takes her place in July will maintain the positive trajectory of It’s On Us.