The focus of Sexual Assault Awareness Month differs each year, but the message remains the same: Sexual assault is preventable and impacts all of us. This year's campaign focuses on the prevention of sexual violence on college campuses and aims to engage entire campus communities -- from administrators and professors to clubs and fraternities -- in promoting safety, equality and respect for everyone on campus.
According to a recent Inside Higher Education study, when presented with the basic premise that "sexual assault is prevalent at U.S. colleges and universities," fewer than one in three college presidents agreed. This is alarming when you consider that multiple studies have found that as many as 16 percent to 20 percent of women are sexually assaulted in college. In order to effectively address this issue and promote prevention, community leaders and university administrators need to know the facts, recognize that there is an epidemic, and understand the important role everyone has in preventing campus sexual assault.
Here are ways you can join us in working to end sexual assault on college and university campuses:
- Administration: Administrators can develop and enforce campus policies to promote the safety and well-being of all students. Leaders can mandate student conduct training, enforce accountability for people who commit sexual violence, and ensure support and accommodations for survivors.
- Faculty: Faculty can play many positive roles in shaping the campus environment as educators, mentors and colleagues. In addition to modeling healthy behaviors, professors can bring the issue of sexual assault to the forefront of curriculum and speak out against attitudes and messages that minimize sexual assault.
- Campus Law Enforcement & Security: As the first responders in many cases of sexual assault, it is key that all officers and staff receive training on trauma-informed responses to sexual assault. Collaborating with local law enforcement and community resources can build a network of supportive resources for victims.
- Health and Counseling Services: Health care providers and counselors can create safe environments for all victims of sexual assault. These partners can educate the campus community about healthy sexuality and respectful relationships to promote sexual violence prevention.
- Clubs/Greek Life/Athletics: As highly visible and respected members of campus communities, students involved in clubs, Greek life and/or athletics can use their visibility on campus to speak out against behaviors or beliefs that support sexual assault. In addition to influencing the larger campus culture, these students can positively shift destructive cultures within their respective organizations by speaking out against demeaning comments, harassment and/or violent behavior.
- Students: Students can be the most powerful advocates on campus. They can shape campus culture by promoting safety and respect and preventing sexual violence. When students see concerning behavior, they can intervene. When peers disclose an assault, students can let them know they are believed and supported. Students can speak out against attitudes and stereotypes that support sexual assault via social media, campus newspapers and other public platforms.
- Parents: When visiting prospective colleges with your son or daughter, don't simply ask whether there have been sexual assaults at the school (and be very wary of any college that reports "none"); but instead ask about their policies and practices for preventing sexual assaults and how they respond when they do receive a report.
This is a long-standing problem that needs to be addressed. Help is available. Students who experience sexual violence should know that they are never alone, and there are many ways to ask for help, from contacting the local police department or notifying campus police to seeking support of friends and family or contacting a local crisis hotline.
We urge students, staff, and faculty to commit to creating campus environments that are free of sexual violence. Campus officials must be held accountable, and the entire campus community also must be held to these standards. NSVRC encourages everyone to get involved in supporting safe and healthy communities.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about the NSVRC and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.