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Jason Johnston/GazetteMel Townsend recounts how she survived a rape about five years ago while as a sophomore at the University of Kansas.

Mel Townsend, a rape survivor, shared her experience Wednesday evening to about 275 people in the Karl C. Bruder Theatre at Emporia State University.

“For most of my life, I’ve been known as an athlete. A daughter. A granddaughter. A sister. A cousin. An all around, happy free-spirited girl who couldn’t help but smile everyday,” Townsend said. “However, what you may not know is that I am also the last known victim of a serial rapist that attacked 13 college students in Manhattan and Lawrence.

“Just over five years ago, I was a student athlete in my sophomore year at the University of Kansas. Although, I lived a pretty care-free life, it was consumed with volleyball, classes, family and friends. And, everything was going right, until the night my world got turned upside down. I was awoken by a man with a gun. He beat me, tied me up and raped me. He terrorized me for almost eight hours.”

When Townsend was finally able to escape, she made it to her car and went to the KU athletic department, she said.

“I was in shock, and all I could bring myself to say at first was, ‘He raped me,’” Townsend said. “Between my coaches, the administration and the support staff, they helped me to call the police, get in touch with my family and they took me to the hospital. Once I started to come back to reality, I realized just how hard my path would be from there on out, but I also realized how many people were going to be there to support me.”

About four and a half years after her attack, Townsend helped the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence pass House Bill 2252, which eliminated the statute of limitations on rape in Kansas.

If you take anything away from being here tonight, Townsend said, consider this advice: Always be aware of your surroundings, lock the doors to your apartment or your dorm room and form a buddy system.

“If you see something out of the ordinary, say something,” she said. “I’m not suggesting that you should live in fear of someone out to hurt you, I’m just saying there are people out there with that intention. They won’t be wearing a sign around their neck, it won’t necessarily be obvious, but if you are smart and conscious about what is going on around you, you will be better off.”

SOS Inc. hosted the “Take Back the Night” event.

Often, rapes on campus go unreported, untold, said Connie Cahoone, the executive director of SOS. They are kept very private because women or men feel ashamed or it’s their fault. 

“It’s not your fault,” said Cahoone to the audience. “I would encourage you to be cautious, be careful, and keep in mind that SOS is here to help in any way that we can help.”

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