04/05/2012 03:20 pm ET Updated Jun 05, 2012

Sexual Assault More Prevalent Than Many Think

By Natalie Plumb

Rape, sexual assault and abuse do not discriminate. A survivor cannot predict his or her abuse and never asks for it. Often, too, a perpetrator at a college party has no intention of committing a crime punishable by years upon years behind bars. But he or she could face that reality when waking up the next morning. As students, we need to use good judgment, take care of our friends and never leave or let someone else leave with a stranger, particularly when alcohol is a part of the picture. And we need to tell our friends that it's not okay to rape or sexually assault someone.

A surprising number of my peers have confided in me about their sexual abuse and it breaks my heart to know that they've suffered through this. But it also should come as no surprise.

If either sexual partner has consumed alcohol to the extent that they are "mentally incapacitated or physically helpless," this is rape, according to United States' penal codes. Penn State Live cited that "one in four women and one in six men will be a victim of sexual assault at some point in their lives."

Take a class in 100 Thomas -- the classroom with the largest capacity at University Park -- with 700 students, half women and half men. Roughly 88 of those women and 58 of those men will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime. That statistic is terrifying and only increases when you consider that 54 percent of sexual assaults go unreported according to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network's website.

According to a U.S. Department of Justice Special Report called "Extent, Nature and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey," only one in five women report their sexual abuse.

Nine percent of men and 28 percent of women reported being a victim of unwanted sexual contact or experience when surveyed, according to a Center for Collegiate Mental Health study of 74,000 students seen at college counseling centers in 2010 and 2011. An overwhelming majority of the perpetrators were the survivor's acquaintance, intimate partner or family member.

It doesn't matter if a girl is wearing a short skirt; no one who is raped is "asking for it," as our culture loves to flag the scenario. Few of the perpetrators, too, often know what they're doing, or even that what they're doing is, in fact, sexual assault.

Ignorance regarding rape is frightening.

We have to ask ourselves how often we let sexual assault happen under our noses on our very campus. We need to remember that what occurs on campus day in and day out -- for example, when our peers binge drink and take advantage of another binge drinking -- is, by definition, sexual assault. With this knowledge, it's safe to assume that you may have been at a party downtown after which someone was raped or assaulted.

Last year alone, 12 percent of students seen by Penn State's Counseling and Psychological Services were given a trauma diagnosis, said Mary Anne Knapp, a clinical social worker at CAPS. A trauma diagnosis is post-traumatic stress disorder in response to sexual assaults, relationship violence and physical assaults, according to CAPS surveys taken during a client's first visit, said Knapp.

This statistic doesn't include clients who were abused after first visiting CAPS or who didn't disclose their abuse during the initial survey.

As students, we should be educated about this type of abuse to both prevent it and help those who have suffered through it. Participation, and thusly education, in the multiple activities across campus that shine a knowledgeable light on the subject -- particularly throughout April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month -- is crucial if we want to see the number of sex offenses decrease.

Needless to say, April honors a lot of our friends, family members and colleagues, whether we know it or not. It is up to us to make sure we don't ignore their cry for help, even if a survivor never makes him or herself known to us.

Chances are, someone close to you has been sexually abused. Throughout April in particular, we should support survivors and participate in events that stand against the afflictions they had, and have, to endure. In doing so, you are making a difference in the fight for a world free of sexual abuse.

Supporting survivors means diminishing the stigma associated with coming out about their abuse, too. Quit making jokes about rape. You never know when someone in the room has been raped and whether what you're saying is causing them to remember the images they seek so much to forget.

No wonder this world is full of broken people who feel as if they're fighting their battle alone. Let's give them no reason to feel this way. Let's honor survivors of sexual abuse this month, and every day, by fighting the fight for those who sometimes feel they can't fight it for themselves any longer.

Natalie Plumb is a senior majoring in print journalism. She is The Daily Collegian's Thursday columnist.

This post originally appeared in The Daily Collegian.