College is a new and exciting time for any young adult. They should be excited to meet new people and learn new things. College should be fun; a student’s only worries should be about making the grade, having a social life, and getting enough sleep. Unfortunately, not every college student has the perfect college experience; in fact, some college students face the brutal reality of sexual assault. According to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, one in five women is sexually assaulted in college. An even more harrowing statistic is that about 80% of those crimes will go unreported, according to a report from the Justice Department (DOJ), leaving the survivors feeling ashamed and alone.
Why do so many assaults go unreported? Among the many answers to this question, perhaps it could be because of a lack of campus resources and support systems.
In January 2014, President Barack Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden, announced the Not Alone Project. The Not Alone Project is dedicated to support and reach out to victims of sexual assault with the support systems and resources they need after an attack. The project also strives to break the silence about sexual assault on college campuses, and inform campuses about the realities of sexual assaults and what can be done to prevent it and support victims.
At Best Value Schools, we strive to inform students about colleges and their resources, and this includes informing students about the realities of sexual assault on campus. We don’t share this to instill fear or terror in students, but to inform them and give a voice to the victims of sexual assault. We will address how to recognize abuse, how to prevent abuse, and what steps should be taken if you or someone you know has been abused.
Rape is a form of sexual assault, but sexual assault can come in many other forms. We want to make it clear that sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Sexual assault is a crime and it is driven by power and control. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), the term “sexual assault” refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Sexual Assault is an umbrella term for the following:
- Penetration of the victim’s body (Rape)
- Attempted rape
- Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts
- Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
- Non-verbal threats or the use of substances to coerce the victim into sexual acts
- Non-physical contact acts like voyeurism and exhibitionism
Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault and anyone can be a perpetrator. In fact, many victims know the perpetrator or rapist; 82% of assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger with 47% of rapists being friends or acquaintances, and 25% of them are former or current intimate partners of the victim, according to RAINN.
Although sexual assault can happen any time and just about anywhere, the DOJ found that location and time do play a part in sexual assault trends, with more sexual assaults happening in the home of the victim during warmer, summer months.
Social stigmas have prevented women and men (10% of sexual assault incidents involve attacks against males) from reporting incidents of sexual assaults. Male victims were hesitant to report because of societal stereotypes and misconceptions of toughness, lack of vulnerability, and masculinity. A study conducted by The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) found that women did not report attacks because of fear of blame, shame or humiliation, fear of not being believed, and a general lack of trust in the criminal justice system.
Knowing these statistics builds awareness in colleges and society. With this information, colleges can create safe places and advocacy programs for all students, but especially for victims of assault.
Now that we have a little bit of an education of what sexual assault is, it’s important to know how it can be prevented. Prevention starts with awareness and recognition. Be aware that sexual assault happens and that it is an epidemic, but also be ready to recognize it so you can be ready to prevent it.
For many, college is a time for exploration and new relationships. Whether relationships are casual, platonic or intimate, it’s important to have the tools and skills to see the warning signs of a negative and detrimental relationship. We want you to recognize abuse so you can spot it in your relationships or others’ relationships before the abuse escalates.
There are multiple kinds of abuse, but here are key warning signs of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, according to the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness:
- Stalking: They demonstrate persistent behaviors that range from showing up in places uninvited or leaving gifts/items that are unwanted.
- Violence: They show any actions that cause you physical pain or harm.
- Threatening Body Language: They grab, lunge at, or push you. They even try to make themselves bigger and back you into corners to keep you from moving, leaving, or escaping.
- Neglect: They withdraw food, money, or love. They leave you for days at a time without any notice or help.
- Abandonment: They leave you in dangerous or unknown places.
- Jealousy: They mistake your friendliness with others for flirting. They make you feel guilty for spending time with people other than them.
- Insulting Language: They put you down, call you names, and yell/scream at you frequently.
- Threats: They threaten suicide if you break up with them. They threaten to harm you, your pet, or people close to you.
- Blame: They blame you for their negative and abusive behaviors or problems.
- Isolation: They prevent you from seeing or talking with friends or family.
- Demanding Sex: They force you to have sex, demand it as reconciliation, or force you to perform sex acts that are painful or uncomfortable.
- Videotaping or Photographing Sexual Acts and Posting without Permission: They post it on the internet or share it without your permission to instill feelings of shame and humiliation.
- Name-Calling: They call you names during intercourse that you don’t like despite asking them to stop.
- Unwanted Advances: They touch you inappropriately despite your expressions of discomfort and protest.
According to the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence (NCADV), controlling behavior is the gateway to more severe and dangerous abuse. In college, 40% of women reported experiencing some form of abusive behavior while dating. Approximately, 31% of the women experienced controlling behavior which eventually led to physical abuse, sexual abuse, or threats of violence.
If you, a loved one, or someone you know is experiencing any of the above, they could be caught in a dangerous and abusive relationship. Lastly, we will share ways to prevent and resources that will help you or someone you know get out of these harmful relationships.
As we said before, sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, but as a society we have a long way to go to stop rape culture. Even though you shouldn’t have to protect yourself from sexual assault, because there shouldn’t be assault in the first place, here are ways you can protect yourself and help others:
Colleges around the country now offer basic, yet powerful self-defense courses. These course are often limited enrollment, taught by trained self-defense teachers with experience in criminal justice, and restricted to only female students. The NIJ also suggests the following actions: running, hiding, getting help, screaming for help, struggling, and attacking. According to NIJ reports, struggling decreased the risk of rape completion by 80%.
Stay In Groups
If you came to a party with friends, stay with them and leave with them. Don’t go off with people you do not know. Make sure you trust the people you’re with. Decide to look out for each other and make sure that everyone returns home together. If you decide to go out alone or on a date with someone new, let a friend or family member know where you are going and what you’ll be doing. Always go to places you are comfortable. Avoid unlit areas or areas with light traffic.
Bring Your Own Drink
Since college is all about the parties, make sure you know how much you can drink before you become intoxicated and incoherent, and even better yet, bring your own drinks or don’t drink at all. You may seem like a prude, but drinks can be laced with drugs, and you are less likely to give explicit consent while intoxicated.
Trust Your Instincts
If you have a bad feeling, get out. Listen to that feeling and leave. Whether it’s a person or a location, listen to your instincts, because our bodies have the reaction to know when to get out of a situation. If you are being followed, seek well-lit locations or large groups of people. Talk loudly and use loud body language. Draw attention to yourself so people around you know you are there.
Call The Police
If you are being threatened with assault or have experienced an assault, find your safest location and call the police immediately. Ideally, find a place where you are not alone and have them help you call the police.
Seek Medical Attention
You may feel like you do not need medical attention, but you definitely do. A doctor’s office, student health clinic, urgent care clinic, or hospital has the resources and people to help you or someone you know. Medical personnel can collect evidence of your assault and treat your injuries. Hospitals have Sexual Assault Nurses that can help you. They can get you in contact with advocacy groups like RAINN or the National Sexual Assault Hotline. They can even direct you to emergency contraception and STD testing. Whatever you do, try to remember key details of your assault and your attacker, and do not shower, brush your teeth or change your clothes. As much as you will want to do these things, not doing them will help you and medical personnel take the best care of you.
Know Your Support Groups/Hotlines
Sexual assault leaves many lasting effects and scars; many of these scars are emotional and psychological. Many victims experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), urgencies to self-harm, flashbacks, STIs, depression and even substance abuse, according to RAINN. Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline and Resource Center. Love is Respect provides 24/7 phone assistance. Seek counseling and support groups. Seek counsel and comfort from trusted loved ones, and give love and support to victims you know. Never place blame on yourself or victims. Colleges have placed Women’s Health groups as safe places for women to find resources and counseling on campus.
Know Your Safe Place
Find places where you feel safe and make sure you can access them. Live with people and have friends that make you feel comfortable and secure. Have these places in mind if you ever need to escape an abusive and dangerous partner. Colleges have campus counseling centers. Find a safe dorm room filled with trusted and loved friends. Seek out a survivors’ shelter, or talk to a residence assistance. Safe places are solid foundations where victims can feel safe and find healing.
Keep Track of Hostility and Abusive Behaviors
As painful as it is, keep emails, texts, and journals of aggressive words and behaviors. This documentation is useful for counselors and authorities.
Try Not to Place Blame on Yourself
Self-blame is a common side effect after assault. Do not feel like you are to blame, because you are not. Sexual assault is an act of power and control when you have no control. This is not your fault. Take care of yourself and be kind to yourself. This is essential in the healing process. Talk to others about your feelings and fears, but never think that you are to blame. You are not responsible for anyone’s actions but your own.
Express Love and Support for Friends Who Have Experienced Assault
Give love and share it with those who have experienced sexual assault. Direct them to resources. Be the roommate or friend that you would want if you were in a similar situation. Insist your friend or loved one receives medical attention and counseling. Help them through hard times and be a supportive listener.
Fortunately, we have come far as a country when it comes to victim advocacy. Though we have farther to go, we have resources now. And with the Not Alone Project, the federal government is taking serious steps to stop the stigmas and incidents of sexual assaults on college campuses. Since 1993, awareness campaigns, campus training, change in law enforcement protocol, and new legislation have lowered rates of assault by 50%, according to the DOJ.
Yes, there is still work to do, but today’s college students have more access than ever to sexual violence information and resources:
National Sexual Assault Online Hotline and Chat: We’ve mentioned RAINN several times in this article, but that’s because they are one of the best resources anyone could have. RAINN runs this hotline with extreme security and sensitivity. The crisis hotline is completely confidential and anonymous. Family members, spouses, and friends of survivors can also use this as a resource, because RAINN has those resources for them.
Campus Sexual Assault Tool Kit: The American Association of University Women created this resource to help faculty and campus staff inform students about sexual assault prevention. This tool kit was designed to create necessary conversations about the realities of sexual assault.
NotAlone.gov: The official website for the Not Alone Project. This website is run by the United States Government and has several resources and data. This website also supplies guidelines for schools when implementing prevention resources.
Official Campus Statistics for Sexual Violence: Contact your prospective universities for this information. Be aware about what programs the college has for students and sexual assault prevention. Sometimes, campuses with higher assaults rates have the best resources because they have prepared. Campuses with lower rape rates might have less resources. Do your research and talk to the right sources.
Smartphone Apps: App developers are in on protecting students on campus. These apps are innovative and help keep students safe during dangerous situations through quick contact with emergency contacts. Download a few and find what works for you.
We hope these resources were helpful, and we hope we can continue to make strides for campus safety as a society and a country.