OPINION: Sexual assault still not talked about enough

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(llustration by Kent Willmeth | The Collegian)

Sex. It’s everywhere in the media.

You can find it in books, magazines, top hit songs, TV shows, movies and advertisements. Sex is practically glamorized in our culture.

And yet when it comes to sexual assault, rape and sexual harassment, people seem to want to stay quiet.

That scares me. Especially when the National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics 2000 report “The Sexual Victimization of College Women” estimates that for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 rape incidents per school year.

The current methods of educating students about sexual assault, and disciplining students convicted of sexual assault, do not accurately address the physical and emotional trauma experienced by victims of rape and sexual assault.

According to Investigate West, a watchdog journalism nonprofit, “Many college women say their experiences after being sexually assaulted — often in date rape situations — illustrate a culture of indifference and denial that results in 1 in 5 young women being assaulted during their college years.”

Women and men who are sexually assaulted can experience both physical and emotional trauma. Emotional trauma can come in many different forms, including shock and numbness; denial, disbelief or anger; or acute stress disorder, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime.

While these students are faced with long-lasting trauma, those convicted of sexual assault seem to be getting off easy.

A Huffington Post analysis, detailed in a September 2014 article by Tyler Kingkade, discovered that fewer than one-third of students found guilty of sexual assault are expelled.

Of the nearly three dozen schools that provided information for the Huffington Post’s analysis, the student was suspended in 47 percent of cases. In the remaining cases, the student received educational sanctions or was placed on probation.

Last August, K-State was added to the list of more than 100 higher education institutions under investigations due to concerns with how the schools handle sexual violence on campus.

According to a Huffington Post article titled “85 Colleges Are Now Under Federal Investigation For Sexual Assault Cases,” court precedents and federal officials have established that under Title IX (which applies to any school that receives federal funding), “colleges must address and eliminate sexual violence and harassment on campus, regardless of whether police are involved in a case.”

After evaluating its policies, K-State now offers confidential sexual assault and sexual violence services to students through its Center for Advocacy, Response and Education to better serve victims with confidential and private support services.

K-State also required students to complete an online sexual assault prevention training before classes began this fall.

U.S. News reported in August that “encouraging students to act when they see a risky situation unfolding is one of a number of ways that colleges are grappling with the sudden imperative to improve campus safety.”

Students need more than one-time online training to be prepared to intervene in potential sexual assault situations and to respond properly when a friend tells them about being assaulted, however. More discussion needs to be created on campus about how to prevent and respond to sexual assault.

“The most responsive institutions are now teaching classes on everything from what a healthy relationship looks like to ways both women and men can steer clear of harm, changing the way they investigate reports of sexual misconduct and cracking down on all of the excesses associated with fraternity life,” according to U.S. News.

I’m glad to see the university taking steps in a positive direction, but college campuses still aren’t talking about sexual assault enough. If K-State and other universities really want to eliminate sexual violence and harassment on campus, they are going to have to talk about it more.

Jessie Pearson is a senior in journalism.

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