Sexual assault: ‘It can happen to anyone’

“Think of the five most important people in your life. It may be your mom. Or your dad. Or your brother or sister. Or your best friend,” Suzette Walden Cole, guest speaker for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, said. “Statistically speaking, one of those five will be sexually assaulted in their lives.”

The pain, shame and trauma of sexual assault affects one in five women and one in 71 men at some point in their lives, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. In addition, 81 percent of women and 35 percent of men report significant short-term or long-term impacts after a sexual assault such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

When analyzing college campuses, NSVRC concluded that one in five female students and one in 16 male students are assaulted, along with more than 90 percent of victims not reporting the assault, and 63.3 percent of men at a single university, who self-reported acts qualifying as rape or attempted rape, admitted to committing that same crime more than once. The nightmares, loss of appetite and low self-esteem are only a few of the aftermaths that sexual assault brings. 

In the last seven years, the Clery crime report states that seven forcible sexual offenses occurred in campus residence halls. The police also reported one sexual assault in Legacy Hall in September 2016, and one more in April 2017.

“We really want students to be safe. We recognize that sexual assault and violence does take place on campus,” Counseling Center Director Pam Midgett said. “It’s time for us to start having conversations about that.”

On April 1, 2001, the United States government declared April as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Since then, universities have also taken a stand. From April 10-11, the counseling center directors attempted to raise awareness by making T-shirts, signing a banner in exchange of a ticket to win a gift card, showing a documentary, and inviting a guest speaker.

Mustangs Matter, the official title of the two-day sexual assault awareness series, began with a screening of Netflix documentary “The Hunting Ground” and the Clothesline Project, where students designed T-shirts expressing their pledges to stop sexual abuse.

“I saw some of the shirts made. It was nice they were doing that, but I’m not sure how it could help stop sexual abuse. They were very creative though,” Jenna Lawrence, biology freshman, said.

In the signing of the banner, psychology sophomore Valeska Vitt said it might’ve been better if an incentive wouldn’t have been offered.

“Signing our names to support Sexual Assault Awareness Month on a banner was a good idea, but we shouldn’t be getting anything out of showing support against something as awful as sexual assault,” Vitt said. “Having an incentive wasn’t a good idea.”

To others, it was a great way to promote awareness.

“To an extent, the activities served their purpose,” sociology senior Juan Mercado said. “There’s always more that we can do, so any programming won’t be enough. Yet, it was a great start.”

In the showing of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about campus sexual assault, Lawrence said the movie depicted the reality of sexual assault in universities, yet it wasn’t promoted enough for more students to attend.

“I didn’t see very many people at the showing, but it was still an eye-opener for those of us who were there,” Lawrence said. “More promotion about it from the school would’ve been more helpful.”

With the slogan, “It’s everyone’s job to stop sexual assault,” Walden Cole culminated the two-day-long activities by speaking to about 100 students on the reality of sexual assault on campus.

“For me, I’m sick and tired of sitting on a campus and watching such things happen,” Walden Cole said. “A lot of people get that rape is bad, but what can happen on a campus is all the other stuff that may not go all the way to penetration. It’s how the students talk and grind. It’s a problem when that sort of culture is created. I felt like conversations about sexual assault needed a change.”

She also talked about what the word “consent” actually means.

“Yes means yes, no means no, and maybe needs clarification,” Walden Cole said.

Among the estimated 100 students that attended Walden Cole’s talk was Mica Schneider, business freshman.

“Everything Mrs. Cole said spoke to me on every level. I didn’t even know there was a Sexual Assault Awareness Month until now,” Schneider said. “I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that most of us had not been talked about what sexual assault really is until today. I hope that everyone took it seriously and understands it better.”

Dean of Students Matt Park said anytime is a good time to raise awareness and inform students about sexual assault.

“Awareness and prevention take multiple forms,” Park said. “It has to start somewhere. Even if one person now has the knowledge to make a different decision or approach a potentially dangerous situation differently will make a difference.”

Even though MSU only participated in the month-long awareness movement for two days, Midgett said it was a good start as a campus climate survey was sent three weeks ago to students via e-mail.

“We were hoping students would give us some feedback on how safe they feel on campus or how unsafe they feel, along with what they think the university would do to respond to sexual assault and their beliefs on obtaining consent,” Midgett said.

Although every student had the opportunity to take the survey, only 15 percent actually completed it.

“I got the notification about the survey, but I just didn’t have the time to fill it all out,” psychology freshman Liliana Cruz said. “I don’t think a survey sent to every student with an e-mail will actually get everyone to take it.”

According to Midgett, the survey has been sent out more than once, and it will continue to be sent for the next two years.

“We want to measure the changes from year to year, and if people have a suggestion on how we can measure this information, then we’d be happy to look at that too,” Midgett said.

Schneider believes more than two days have to be dedicated to sexual assault awareness.

“This is obviously an issue all over the country. I don’t think that a couple of days are enough for students to realize it can happen to anyone,” Schneider said.

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