Trigger Warning: this editorial discusses sexual assault.
April 2022 marks the 21st anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The purpose of the month is to inform people about sexual assault in order to focus on how to prevent it. While it is difficult to gather data about sexual assault on campus due to most assaults going unreported, it is widely known as a prevelant issue on college campuses.
Women in college disproportionately experience sexual assault and are at a greater risk of being sexually assaulted. The most common estimate is that one in five college women will be sexually assaulted during their time spent at school. Women ages 18-24, are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women in other age groups. Estimates regarding the amount of male victims that will be sexual assaulted in college vary more, but range from one in ten to one in 20 students.
Sexual assault is an unfortunate reality on college campuses that is not often handled properly by institutions. These reactions make a substantial difference in helping or harming survivors. 39% of survivors who reported sexual violence to their schools experienced a substantial disruption in their education. Seven percent of survivors who reported took a leave of absence, 20% transferred schools and nearly 10% dropped out of school completely. Almost every survivor who discussed their grades in a survey done by Know Your IX explained that they suffered following their experience of sexual violence.
Efforts to educate college students about sexual assault dates back to at least the 1970s, when student activists began organizing Take Back the Night marches. From these efforts the importance of awareness translating to concrete action, mainly in the form of prevention programs was seen. Prevention programs on campus can play an important role, but we at The Oracle recognize meaningful prevention is not always easy to achieve and that there is not a one size fits all approach to these programs. Instead, they should be catered to fit the culture of the campus, which can be done by faculty surveying their options to implement possible programs, like resistance programs, structural changes on campus or bystander programs.
With such a frequented bar scene at New Paltz, it is important to remember that an estimated 37% of sexual assaults occur when alcohol is involved. Sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault, regardless of the involvement of alcohol or drugs on either the perpetrator or survivor’s part, but we at The Oracle believe that possible prevention programs offered by SUNY New Paltz should go in depth about warning students about common safety risks that occur in the bars at New Paltz; this includes making students aware of behaviors that occur there, like frequent gropings and women being drugged. Students should be informed on how to recognize these instances, like the telltale signs of a roofie or possible ways to respond to being touched inappropriately in a packed establishment. All prevention programs should be trauma-informed and survivor-based.
College students may be reminded of their assault as they are often unable to avoid or are forced to be in the same spaces as their assaulter and/or their friends, all while dealing with the trauma of the incident that impacts their mental and/or physical health. There are some options for survivors, with Title IX and other civil rights laws requiring colleges to provide “supportive measures” like no-contact orders and free counseling.
Unfortunately, these measures can fall short in making a substantial impact that helps a survivor, and majority of survivors choose not to report their sexual assault at all due to factors like perpatrator retaliation and victim blaming.
We at The Oracle believe in the significance of student and community based resources. Consider reaching out to the survivor based organization on campus, Take Back The Night, for resources on how to proceed after being assaulted or how to support a friend that has discussed their assault with you.
While less than 5% of college sexual assaults are reported, the most likely person a survivor will tell is a friend, with a reported two-thirds of survivors telling a friend about the incident. This means you can play a crucial role in helping your friend after their assault. If a friend shares with you they have been assaulted, you may be unsure how to react. It’s important to believe your friend and tell them it’s not their fault. A primary fear survivors can have is that the person they tell doesn’t believe them or blames them, and your reaction can impact whether they reach out for further support. Ask if they need medical help. Listen without judgment, focus on your friend’s emotional and physical well-being and discuss their options with them if they seem willing to do so. Survivors of sexual assault experience its after effects in different ways, including a wide range of behavioral, emotional and physical reactions. There is no “typical” response, but it may include: depression, anger, self-blame, fear, anxiety, numbness, increased vigilance, appetite changes, increased alcohol and drug consumption, withdrawn social behaviors and lack of trust. If you hear your friend has experienced an act of sexual violence or you notice any of these behaviors, be with them and try to ensure that their needs are met. You may not be able to reverse what happened to them, but you can try to help alleviate their pain.
We at The Oracle would be remiss to not acknowledge the resources that are available to students.
For sexual violence related concens, the campus Title IX Coordinators, Tanhena Pacheco Dunn and Emma Marcone can be reached at 845-257-3172 and 845-257-3184 by phone, and firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com by email, respectively.
More information on Title IX can be found at https://www.newpaltz.edu/titleix/.
Counseling services and Emergency Contact for Student Consult (ECSC) are available to all students and can be accessed during regular business hours through the Psychological Counseling Center (PCC) office in the Student Health and Counseling Center building; they can also be reached at 845-257-2920 to make an appointment.
After business hours, students can access the ECSC counselor through your Resident Director (RD) or by calling the PCC at 845-257-2920 and asking to speak with the Emergency Contact counselor.
If speaking with a trained student rather than a mental health professional is preferred, New Paltz offers OASIS and HAVEN, two peer support services. They are both supervised by the PCC.
The Title IX Working Group, “a partnership between the Division of Student Affairs and the Office of Human Resources, Diversity & Inclusion,” has partnered with other departments as well as student organizations and has prepared a series of event for Sexual Assualt Awareness Month. The events include multiple workshops, trauma-informed yoga and an annual full day Take Back the Night event on April 17. For more information, visit https://sites.newpaltz.edu/news/2021/03/april-is-sexual-assault-awareness-month-events-and-programs-from-the-title-ix-working-group/.