By Taylor Allen
Say NO to Sexual Assault
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This began in 2001 to bring awareness to the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual violence and to the experiences of survivors, as well as prevent further sexual violence.
What is Sexual Violence?
Sexual violence describes many different types of violence including rape, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and sexual harassment. Sexual violence can happen to ANYONE of ANY gender, sexual orientation, race, age, ability, socioeconomic status, etc. According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), one American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds and every 9 minutes that victim is a child ( https://www.rainn.org/statistics). One in every 6 American women have been the victim of attempted or completed rape, and the same is true for 1 in every 33 men.
It’s also important to understand that a majority of sexual assaults occur at or near the victim’s home with 55% occurring in the home.
Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Childhood sexual abuse is unfortunately common as well. One in 9 girls and one in 10 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual violence perpetrated by an adult. The potential effects of this on children’s development and outcomes later in life can be enduring and detrimental. This can especially impact mental health outcomes, including increased likelihood of experiencing symptoms of drug abuse, PTSD, and major depression in adulthood.
Campus Sexual Violence
Sexual violence on college campuses is pervasive and a huge problem across the country. College women between the ages of 18 to 24 in particular are 3 times more likely to experience sexual violence on campus. RAINN states that 11.2% of all college students experience sexual violence and are more likely to experience this within their first and second semesters of college. So, what is going on at college campuses that makes sexual violence more prevalent?
One thing that happens a great deal during the first few months of college is going out and drinking with friends. Many students are living apart from parents for the first time and for the first few months of college socializing often includes going out to clubs, tailgating for football games, and house parties. Drinking can lower inhibitions, cause black outs, impact judgment, and lead to misinterpretations of consent. Perpetrators on campus can also purposefully use alcohol to take advantage of victims.
Consent, or rather a lack thereof, is a huge contributor to sexual violence on college campuses. First, let’s define consent: permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. In terms of sex, this means that there is an agreement between all participants to engage in sexual activity. Communication is KEY to consent, and it should happen every time when engaging in any sexual activity. It is important to verbally consent and respect everyone’s boundaries. So what does consent look like?
- Making sure everyone involved wants to engage in sexual activity and explicitly says “yes” or “I’m open to trying.”
- Communicating when the type or degree of sexual activity changes.
- Speaking up if you’re uncomfortable and checking in with your partner before continuing or advancing sexual activity.
- YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR MIND AT ANY TIME – just because you initially gave consent does not mean that you have to continue engaging in a sexual activity that makes you uncomfortable.
Misconceptions about what consent actually is can contribute to the prevalence of sexual violence on campus. So let’s take a look at what consent is NOT to really make sure we understand it.
- Refusing to accept or acknowledge someone saying “No”
- Assuming that someone’s clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation to have sex or any other sexual activity
- Minors who are under the legal age of consent CANNOT GIVE CONSENT
- Someone being incapacitated or under the influence of drugs/alcohol
- Pressuring someone into sexual activity through fear or intimidation
- Thinking that you have consent to engage in a sexual act because someone gave consent in the past.
- Assuming that because you are in a relationship with someone means that you are entitled to sex with that partner.
Lack of consent is a defining factor of sexual assault, and it’s important to understand what it is and how to appropriately ask for consent. Again, this is consent.
College-aged victims of sexual violence are also less likely to report their experience to law enforcement. This can be for a multitude of reasons, some of which include fear of not being believed, blaming themselves (even though it is NOT their fault), and potentially fear of running into their perpetrator on campus after reporting.
It is important for us as a campus community to understand consent and foster a safe place for individuals to report sexual violence.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE
· 24/7 confidential anonymous support for survivors and loved ones
We know that sexual assault and trauma is complex. It can sometimes be difficult to find help and the information provided here is not exhaustive. Although our physical location is currently closed due to COVID-19, counselors at the Carruth Center for Psychological and Psychiatric Services are still offering telecounseling services for students currently located in West Virginia. Students located outside of West Virginia can access free telehealth services through the Student Support Program (My SSP). You can call us at (304) 293-4431 to schedule an appointment or for more information.
Meet the author
Taylor Allen is a third-year doctoral candidate in Counseling Psychology at WVU. She is a supervised advanced trainee at the Carruth Center, where she provides individual and group counseling to students. She received her master’s degree at Florida State University in Sport Psychology and has worked as a supervised performance coach with collegiate athletes. Outside of school, Taylor can be found at Crossfit, hiking around Morgantown and Ohiopyle (weather permitting), and listening to live music.