In the beginning of the school year it is easy to get swept up in the habits around campus and for people to fall into the “bubble” that is Roanoke College. We all know this “bubble;” the attitude in which we walk around and forget that we are actually just on a college campus, in the middle of a town, 10 minutes from a fairly nice sized city. And I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is an issue regarding the safety of students. Frequently in the past weeks I have heard many exclaim that “we are a safe campus” and “nothing bad ever happens here,” and this, in itself, is not the problem. We are a fairly safe campus because we are small and we are in a small town, but I also think it promotes the cliché, ignorant attitudes of people our age when it comes to safety issues.
In general, a problem that occurs all too frequently across college campuses world-wide is the issue of sexual assault. Many people dismiss the idea that this could be a thing that happens at “[their] college.” From the last available data from 2012, the Federal Education Department reports that there were more than 3,900 reports of forcible sex offenses on college campuses nationwide which is apparently up 50 percent over the past three years. These numbers are scary though, because they only reflect the total reported incidents that either went to trial or had no convictions. Not every incident is reported. The US Department of Justice reports that 95 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the authorities. According to recent studies, it was found that 1 in 5 college women and 1 in 10 men has reported that they were the victim of sexual assault.
It is an ignorant statement for anyone to deny that sexual assault occurs. Many cases are unreported, dismissed, and unresolved. I am not saying that this is a prevalent problem at our school. In fact, our reported numbers are fairly small at only 1 reported sexual assault in 2012 according to the Campus Crime Statistics on the Roanoke website. Regardless, 1 assault is 1 assault too many. Based on the other available data, our school assault rates have actually decreased in the past years, but this is not the case nationwide.
Any number of assaults, anywhere in the world, is not okay. I don’t write this to preach the facts about sexual assault or to make you afraid that college isn’t safe. I write this to bring attention to the fact that “yes,” this does happen on college campuses. It happens on our campus, it happens on the campus the next town over, it happens at colleges all over. I am writing this to highlight that ignoring it is not a solution to the problem, but rather educating yourself and taking matters into your own hands is.
Legal definitions vary from state to state, but sexual assault is a general term for any type of sexual activity that occurs without consent which includes unwanted touching or kissing; sexual contact with someone who is intoxicated and unable to give an informed “yes” or “no”, or rape or attempted rape. Sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or sexual orientation. I say this to everyone; Make sure you have a communicated consent. At least 50 percent of college assaults occur with the involvement of alcohol and not being legally able to give consent.
Be aware. Last week, I read responses to a Twitter question posted to get comments from readers about their opinion on campus rape. One of these tweets went on to claim that people put themselves in risky situations and they need to be aware. Others took the wrong side of the argument to say it is the victims fault. It is never the victims fault. No matter their situation, it is not a victim’s fault. I do believe, however, that everyone should be educated in knowing how to avoid scary situations. Most of these tips are ones that I am sure have been pounded into your head, but here they are again.
Don’t accept drinks from anyone. You should always watch your drink, never set it down, and pour your own. Use the buddy system. Travel in groups or at least a pair when going out anywhere, especially at night when attending a party. Don’t leave your buddy alone in unfavorable positions. Try not to walk alone at night, or even during the day through an alley where there are no other people scurrying around. If you are alone at night, don’t forget that Roanoke College’s Campus Safety is here to help you. If you feel uncomfortable to walk alone across campus at night, give them a call. And if something does happen to you and you find yourself being the victim of a rape or assault, please report it to the authorities. And please adhere to the “No means no,” mantra, and try to stop uncomfortable situations if you witness them.
Pretending rape doesn’t happen is a problem. Asking friends “Does that even happen here?” is a problem. Going to other college campuses and assuming they are just as “safe” as ours is a problem. Watching out for others and supporting victims can be a part of preventing sexual assault rates. Educating yourself and others is part of the solution. Don’t become part of the problem, become part of the solution.
If you, or anyone you know have been the victim of a sexual assault or rape, please know you are not alone. Contact the Roanoke College Counseling Center at 375-2302 and Student Health Services at 375-2286 to set up counseling. Sexual Assault Response Awareness (SARA) is an off-campus support and counseling organization and can be reached at 345-7273. The local Rape Crisis Hotline is 981-9352, and you can also contact The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network for support on their 24 hour hotline 1-800-656-HOPE. You can also visit other webpages on PACT5.com to learn about what to do if an assault occurs and how to help a friend.