By Guest Contributor Cary Barlow
The statistics are indeed alarming: according to the National Institute of Justice, one in five women and more than 6% of men are sexually assaulted during their time in college. And the numbers don’t lie. After the recent spate of sexual assault incidents at Boston University and other prestigious institutions, it would seem that the necessity for sexual assault awareness is now more pressing than ever for today’s youth. After all, the habits, ideologies and patterns formed around sexual identity at this definitive stage could have a lifelong impact.
Well, it’s a good thing that April is dedicated to SAAM or Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the United States. Since 2001 the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) has ensured that SAAM places importance on increasing public awareness around issues related to sexual violence and assault. Given that so many acts of sexual aggression happen on our nation’s campuses, isn’t it time we all worked together to bring this pressing issue to light?
Keep reading for a few important tips on how to educate college students, administrators and educators on the vital importance of sexual awareness education in April and always.
Begin the Conversation
One thing is certain: open communication is essential for raising awareness about the harsh realities of sexual violence on campus. It is simply not enough to send campus police to a few hours of sexual assault training or require new students to sit through a quick freshman orientation lecture and hope that these will be the solution when issues arise.
Instead, a healthy on campus dialogue must take place between administrators, educators, campus police and the student population to ensure that everyone is aware of the dangers and characteristics of on-campus sexual assault.
Here a few questions to help get the process started:
- How is sexual assault defined?
- What is the prevailing on-campus student culture in regards to sex and sexuality?
- Are we really aware of the reality of sexual assault of our particular campus?
- Do students of all gender identities feel safe on campus?
- What safety measures does the institution have in place to prevent sexual violence?
- Does the institution have any measures in place once sexual assault happens?
- How can students be truly engaged in a thorough conversation about sexual aggression?
Once you’ve answered these preliminary questions with input from all the necessary stakeholders (administrators, educators and students), you’ll be on your way to building a compelling dialogue around sexual assault awareness on campus…and off.
Building Healthy Attitudes
The anecdotes are endless: a 2011 complaint filed by female Yale students alleged that fraternity pledges paraded through public spaces chanting “No means yes, yes means anal;” also, a recent incident at Boston University involved a student newspaper article that was satirizing gang rape following previous episodes of sexual assault on campus. These incidents and the numerous others that happen on American colleges each year make one thing resoundingly clear: building healthy attitudes towards sex, sexuality and gender is one huge hurdle towards true sexual violence awareness.
How to do it? Although much of what contributes to healthy sexual attitudes begins with good parenting, there are ways that committed institutions of higher education can contribute to the growth process:
- Offering sex education courses that place emphasis on positive sexual encounters
- Highlighting services, books and in person consultations with on site, licensed sex therapists and counselors
- Defining consent and how to talk about, accept or decline it in a respectful fashion
Going One Step Further
Despite what many well meaning college administrators and educators may think, sexual aggression isn’t only about rape. In fact, stalking, relationship violence and other forms of sexual aggression all fall under the sexual assault umbrella. Colleges and universities around the country need to take a long hard look at any and all incidents that happen under their purview and ensure every case is handled with sensitivity and the utmost care.
And here’s something essential to remember: Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) may take place every April, but it’s up to concerned institutions of higher education to keep the flame alive throughout the year.
This article was provided by Cary Barlow. Cary is proud to be an advocate for SAAM, while also trying to help spread the word about the need for sexual harassment training in the workplace. Besides SAAM, Cary is trying to promote resources for the most common forms of sexual harassment and a sexual harassment training quiz.