The Transylvania Times -

'It's On Us' To Help Prevent Sexual Assault

 


No one wants to talk about sexual assault, but with national statistics claiming that more than 20 percent of women will be assaulted during their time at college, it’s time we start talking.

One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while they are in college; more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

According to national statistics, even on our campus, between 82 and 87 female students and an additional 22 to 27 men will be sexually assaulted during their time at Brevard.

“Over 100 colleges and universities are being investigated for Title IX issues,” said Gabrielle Mellendorf, director of community and volunteer services at BC.

If sexual assault were the flu, every night we would hear about the “massive epidemic sweeping the nation that affects hundreds of thousands of people each year!”

So, how have things gotten this out of control?

It isn’t fair to say it’s “new” to hear about sexual assaults on college campuses because sexual assault is far older than the recent awareness movement. But, I think it is perfectly safe to say concern about sexual assault on college campuses has only recently started to reach an appropriate level.

Last year, I couldn’t have defined sexual assault. From my understanding as a junior in college, sexual assault was essentially just a politically correct name for rape.

Sexual assault, as defined by the U.S. Department of Justice, is “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” With this definition, it’s clear how anything from forced sexual intercourse to fondling, child molestation or incest can fall under the umbrella of sexual assault.

According to the National Institute of Justice, “half of all student victims do not define the incident as ‘rape.’ This is especially true when no weapon was used, there is no obvious physical injury, and alcohol was involved — factors commonly associated with campus acquaintance rape. This is one reason rape and other sexual assaults on campus are not well reported.”

Until all of Brevard was shaken by the traumatic events related to a series of sexual assaults by an unknown assailant more than a year ago, there was no broad discussion about sexual assault happening on campus. And as soon as the assaults ceased, we stopped talking about this issue again.

Dean for Students Deborah D’Anna said sexual assault is on the forefront of colleges’ concerns across the nation, and she wants Brevard to be at the front of that movement for colleges our size.

“We will not tolerate sexual misconduct,” D’Anna said. “That’s the bottom line. But we can only deal with what we know, and that’s why it’s important that there is trust between all of us so that you feel comfortable reporting things that have happened.”

D’Anna and Deborah Hall, Vice President for Business and Finance, are the two Title IX coordinators on campus.

According to the my.brevard website, this means both women are trained in college policies, procedures and relevant state and federal laws; available to advise any individual about college and community resources and reporting options; available to provide assistance to any college employee about how to respond appropriately to a report of any Title IX-related issue; and responsible for ensuring the effective implementation of the College’s policies.

But, why don’t students want to talk about sexual assault? Is it because they’re not sure whom to report to? Are they concerned for retaliation? Do they simply not want an investigation?

Dee Dasburg, Associate Dean of Students and the college counselor, says it could be a variety of reasons, including but not limited to the concerns illustrated in the above questions.

We have trained professionals on campus and available. Even if students don’t feel comfortable coming to the dean, Dasburg says that all faculty and staff receive some training in Title IX.

“It takes a lot of trust and vulnerability to [report], but it’s important,” Dasburg said.

While speaking to Dasburg, as a licensed counselor, students have the protection of confidentiality. Should the survivor not want to file a report, Dasburg is not required to report the incident.

Talking to someone on campus, whether faculty or staff, may mean the beginning of an investigation, but not necessarily.

“We work with victims to help them decide what they want to do and make sure they have access to resources, should they need them,” Dasburg said. “We usually recommend S.A.F.E. as a contact and a resource, but we don’t pressure or require anyone to do anything they don’t want to; we don’t want to make someone a victim twice.”

Stepheny Hine, a student at the college, believes the responsibility is on the Brevard College community to stop sexual assault. She has created two public service announcements, the first of which is already available on BC Campus Life’s Facebook page. The other will be posted sometime next week. The videos feature students and staff calling on the college to take action.

“It is time for Brevard to change our culture surrounding sexual (assault),” she said. “The only way we can do that is if we admit it’s on us to change that culture.”

Several campus leaders, including D’Anna, Mellendorf, Dasburg, the communications director and student Stepheny Hine, have worked this year to bring awareness to Brevard through social media and informational posters.

The group hosted an “It’s On Us” workshop with the goal to empower and educate peers on what to look for and what to do if they witness assault. “It’s On Us” is a national public awareness campaign launched in January 2014 by the White House.

The campaign’s mission is to recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault, to identify situations in which sexual assault may occur, to intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given, and to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.

“I believe greatly in the campaign’s mission. Sexual violence, to me, seems like an oxymoron. One does not go with the other. This country doesn’t seem to share that belief,” Hine said. “I would like to be a part of the movement that changes that.”

Hine spent the summer in a training organized by the national campaign, and she is working with campus organizers and S.A.F.E. to bring sexual violence awareness events to BC and the community.

During the week of April 3-9, Brevard hosted a Sexual Assault Awareness “Week of Action.” This campaign aimed to inform students on how to protect themselves, others, and prevent sexual assault.

These events were wonderful, and I look forward to the dialogue that this can bring to Brevard, but we must remember that sexual assault has essentially run rampant across college campuses for decades. These movements are only effective when we continue to show concern year-round, not just during some awareness month.

We have an obligation to our students and our community to stop sexual violence. The national campaign says it all: “It’s on Us.”

(Blakley is a senior at Brevard College graduating in May 2016 with a degree in mathematics and integrated studies. His integrated studies emphases are political science and communications. Blakley is the editor in chief of BC’s student newspaper, the Clarion, a senator in SGA, and a representative for the Pride Club in student government.)

 
 

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