By Faith Tarpley
Elm Staff Writer
Sexual assault is a legitimate, constant danger on college campuses and Washington College is no different. It is a student’s right to know the preventive and responsive resources at his or her disposal.
The U.S. Department of Justice carried out an on-campus sexual assault study in 2007. It determined that approximately one in five women and one in 16 men on U.S. college campuses fall victim to attempted or completed sexual assault. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), approximately 95 percent of those rapes are not reported.
WC provides annual statistics of sexual assaults, robberies, fires, and more in their annual security and fire safety report, which can be found on the Public Safety website. In 2014, there were three documented rapes and one documented sexual harassment, all of which occurred on campus.
Lauren Gibson, director of Wellness and Prevention Education and sexual assault response coordinator, has overseen the installment of multiple preventative resources on campus. “This year we started using Campus Clarity’s ‘Think About It’ program, which is a three part program that talks about the situations students may face or witness during their time at college, including alcohol and other drugs, parties, hook ups, relationships, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking,” said Gibson. “New students took the first part prior to arriving on campus and will take the other courses starting in January.”
Jerry Roderick, director of Public Safety, also noted that peers can be a good on-campus resource regarding prevention. “We train RA’s and Peer Mentors to stress the importance of good decision making, especially in those first six weeks of school,” he said. “There is so much pressure then to over-drink, which can put people in a vulnerable position.”
While these programs act as preventative measures, it is important to remain realistic and emphasize the equal importance of resources of response. Following an assault, there are multiple ways a student can get help.
“While it may be a hard thing to disclose, I encourage people to talk to someone about it,” said Gibson. “They can also contact the sexual assault response advocates at WC. These advocates are faculty and staff members who are trained in helping victims of all forms of sexual violence navigate their options.” Those advocates can also assist in the process of filing a Title IX complaint through Sarah Feyerherm, WC’s Title IX coordinator and associate vice president for Student Affairs. They can assist taking a person to the hospital for a forensic exam or contacting Public Safety.
Roderick also emphasizes the importance of support and immediate action after an assault if a person is ready. “Our first response is to make sure a person is medically addressed,” said Roderick. “There is a time frame where things like STDs and unwanted pregnancy can be discussed and actions can be made.” Public Safety can be reached at 410-778-7810 and can also assist in contacting a sexual assault advocate. The offices work closely together in these situations.
In addition to on-campus resources, which also include the Health and Counseling Services located near Queen Anne’s House, off-campus resources are available to all students. Two of these resources are For All Seasons, a 24/7 rape crisis hotline for Kent County, and the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, an organization that educates and advocates in public policy and assists in victims legal services.
Community also plays a huge role in the recovery process. Whether a student holds a mentor position or not, they can still act as a support system to one who has experienced sexual assault. “Being a friend to them is the most important thing you can do,” said Gibson. “Know they came to you because you are a trusted friend and value your friendship…Allow them to share with you what they are willing to, and respect their decisions about what resources they want to check out.”
Roderick agrees. “It’s important that we be good listeners and that we’re ensuring the victim is being taken care of,” he said. “Encourage them to report what happened to them if they’re comfortable and be there to support them.”
Acting as a pillar of support can also play a large role in combatting the stigma of being sexually assaulted. Gibson says that many victims feel that the assault was due to poor judgment on their part and the conversation around assault isn’t quick to correct them.
“It is never the victims fault, even if they didn’t watch their drink, or drank to much, or walked alone,” said Gibson. “That shouldn’t be the only message that we provide students because it gives the impression to those who unfortunately have become victims of sexual assault that they could have prevented it if they just did a certain thing. That perpetuates internal and external blame.”
On campus programs like RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) training, which takes place twice a year, and Be A Courageous Bystander Workshop train students to take care of themselves and each other to the best of their abilities and combat the negative stigma surrounding sexual assault.
Gibson says that if any student has concerns, questions or comments on this topic to please reach out to her at email@example.com or 410-778-7277. Her office is located in Caroline House and her hours are Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. “It is my firm belief that sexual assault is not inevitable and that we all have the power to stand up against sexual violence,” said Gibson. “It will take our whole community – not just my office – to put an end to sexual violence.”