By Lauren Reisig, JWI Intern
1 in 5 college women will be a victim of sexual assault.
75% of sexual assaults involve alcohol.
90% of sexual assaults are not stranger rape.
Less than 5% of these sexual assaults or attempted assaults will be reported.
While these statistics are alarming, watching one hand after another raise into the air as a group of college-aged women respond to the question, “Who knows a victim of sexual assault in college?” is truly eye opening.
The group’s response nullifies the excuses, “It could never happen to me” or, “Stuff like this doesn’t happen to people I know,” naïve justifications often used to defer the burden during discussions of sexual assault and domestic violence.
In fact, college bound students are at a higher risk for sexual assault than their non-college bound peers. On Wednesday, July 11, Rachel Wainer, Assistant Dean of Students at the Catholic University of America, and Miri Cypers, JWI Senior Policy and Advocacy Specialist, spoke to DC interns regarding the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, the second event this year in JWI’s Summer Series for Interns and Young Professionals.
Cypers outlined the Clery Act and other initiatives, including a new Obama Administration PSA campaign, 1 is 2 many, and S. 1925, the yet-to-be-approved Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act, to highlight steps taken to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence at the federal level. Wainer explained what these policies actually mean for the safety of students on college campuses, and how, despite these improvements to sexual assault legislation and policies in the past two decades, sexual assault and dating violence prevention is only as effective as a school’s sexual assault education and awareness programs.
The material in a university’s sexual assault prevention program needs to be disseminated in a way so that students are receptive to the information. Wainer stresses the problem with many of these programs is that they treat women like potential victims, and men like potential assailants. “The idea that it’s on the women to prevent sexual assault is insane,” Wainer says. Instead, all students need to be treated like potential bystanders, also known as “bystander intervention.”
By labeling every student as a potential bystander, it evens the playing field without putting either gender on the defensive. It doesn’t tell women they’ll be assaulted if they don’t watch their drink, and it doesn’t paint men as potential violent offenders purely because of their gender. It simply encourages all students to be aware of their surroundings, and learn how to look for signs that a fellow student may be in immediate danger so they are able to prevent a potential attack.
After all, no matter what the statistics say, one victim of sexual assault is one too many.