SCOTT COUNTY (LEX 18) — In the hours since Ava Stokes first publicly told her story after her convicted rapist was found guilty, she’s been flooded with support from people in the community and other survivors alike.
Cody Alan Arnett was found guilty last week of multiple counts of rape in connection with a 2018 attack in Stokes’ student apartment at Georgetown College.
After nearly three years of staying silent, Stokes’ side of the story was made public this week through social media and an interview with LEX 18. A post she made on Instagram about what happened had been shared widely and had been liked nearly 9,000 times as of Tuesday afternoon.
“The response has been so encouraging not only to me, but to any other girl who has gone through this,” Stokes told LEX 18 Tuesday.
In the United States, about one in every five women are raped or experienced attempted rape in their lifetime, according to The National Sexual Violence Resource Center. In 2018, only about a quarter of rapes or sexual assaults were reported to police, according to the center.
Stokes was critical of how Georgetown College handled the aftermath of the 2018 attack in her widely-shared Instagram post, saying that she wasn't supported and felt that was discouraged from speaking freely about what happened while she was a student.
The college released a statement on Monday stating that student safety was a top priority and addressing campus security, including safety updates to buildings. The college also said that Arnett's recent conviction could not "restore the peace we once felt on our campus" and acknowledged the "anger and deep emotion" that the attack has caused.
After LEX 18 reached out, the college addressed the discussion surrounding Stokes' case more directly.
"The comments following the recent trial and conviction of the attacker has caused a good deal of discussion, accusations, speculations, and concern, particularly on social media platforms," Georgetown College spokeswoman Abby Malik said in a statement. "There is a lot of hurt and anger that something like this could happen to a member of our campus community. We are disturbed that anyone suffered such pain on our campus."
Stokes said that no one with Georgetown College's administration has reached out to her directly before, during or after the trial.
Stokes hopes to work in criminal justice, possibly as an advocate for women and men who have gone through situations similar to hers.
“I think of the amount of times I’ve had people tell me that they have had to keep silent because they had nobody to tell,” Stokes said.”They were scared of being believed, they were scared that they did something wrong, that it was their fault. It breaks my heart and it makes my passion for this career path even stronger.”
Already Stokes has seen evidence that her story is helping encourage others to speak up about their own experiences, she said.
“I have had multiple survivors come to me and tell me that with me speaking out it has given them the courage and strength to speak out about what happened to them too,” Stokes said. “I’ve had people who haven’t even told their parents tell me what happened to them and tell me that they now feel like they’re not alone and they feel they can finally talk about it.”
Rape has a unique impact on survivors, and it’s one that should be talked about, Stokes said.
“It’s not like any other typical crime, it’s not like robbing a store, it’s not like stealing a car, it’s a violation of you,” Stokes said. “It’s a violation of your body, it’s a violation of your soul, it’s a violation of your mind, it’s a violation of your emotions. It literally changes who you are and it literally changes how your mind works.”
It’s important for survivors of rape to be able to tell their stories and not feel isolated, Stokes said.
“If one person can take away almost everything that makes you you, that’s something that needs to be talked about, it’s not something you should bottle up, because that’s what makes people sink into a deep depression because they have nobody to talk to, and it breaks my heart.”