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Monday, March 8, 2021

Opinion

Sexual Assault Awareness Month reminds students of boundaries


sexual assault

David Delgado//The Daily Cougar

In the United States, April marks the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

This month is dedicated because sexual assault is an issue at large in society. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reports that every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted.

The prevalence of sexual assaults on campus appears to be low. They are rarely on crime reports, and students such as history junior Matthew Wiltshier are unaware of the issue as a whole.

“I don’t know how prevalent sexual assault is on this campus,” Wiltshier said. “I don’t know how prevalent it is relative to society at large.”

According to the Annual Crime Report released by the University’s Department of Public Safety, there have been 11 reported sexual assault cases in the past three years on campus. While this seems like a low number, it does not mean we can take the issue lightly or forget that a large majority of sexual assault cases go unreported.

The University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy defines sexual activity as any intercourse that involves vaginal penetration, anal penetration, oral copulation or any intentional contact with the breasts, buttocks, groin or genitals.

It can be touching another with any of those body parts, making another touch the victim or themselves with any of those body parts or any intentional bodily contact in a sexual manner, whether or not those body parts are included.

As for sexual misconduct, it is any nonconsensual sexual activity or unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature. This includes sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual intimidation, sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. It can be committed by men or women and can occur between people of the same or opposite sexes.

It’s often believed that sexual misconduct will be inflicted by someone unknown to the victim. However, according to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, approximately two-thirds of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows and 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.

UH enforces an affirmative consent policy — there has to be an active, affirmative willingness to participate in a particular sexual activity. A mere absence of “no” would violate this policy.

Despite what many have argued in the past, silence or lack of protest is not equal to showing consent.

Consent can be expressed through either words or actions, as long as there is a mutual understanding of consent. Consent does not need to be verbal, but speech is the most reliable form of obtaining it.

Past or current involvement in a sexual relationship with your attacker is never a substitute for consent. The responsibility for getting consent falls on the person who initiates the sexual activity.

This shifts the blame from the victim to the perpetrator, an important step in turning rape culture on its head.

Instead of asking the victim questions like “did you scream loud enough” or “were you wearing provocative clothing,” it asks the perpetrator “did you get consent” or “did they say yes to the sexual activity.”

“I don’t think a lot of people know we have an affirmative consent standard. However, if we’re going to hold people to that standard, they need to know what it is,” said Beverly McPhail, director of the Women’s Resource Center.

McPhail holds a presentation about sexual assault and how to get consent, as well as many other resources, but they are often underutilized since no one is concerned enough to seek her out.

The Sexual Misconduct Policy itself is 20 pages long, but there are plans to break it up and make it easier to read.

Jyl Shaffer, an equal opportunity specialist for the University, is part of the team in charge of this.

The policy will be broken up into paragraphs and bullet points with easier readability and less jargon.

Last year, Equal Opportunity Services launched coogsgetconsent.org. The website is dedicated to spreading sexual assault awareness and educating its visitors on how to get consent and help prevent sexual assault. The website is young but filled with resources and is open to any criticisms students may have involving content or navigation.

“What we are building is a model of what I hope other institutions will be doing,” Shaffer said.

This summer, EOS will discuss plans for a sex education orientation for incoming freshmen.

“Let’s do this right and be the best, not just the minimum. If we do it right, we want other campuses to be able to take it and use it,” Shaffer said.

The policy was written with students’ input and is one of the best and most comprehensive in the nation, but we need more training for staff, faculty and students.

At least UH’s policy is superior to that of an Ivy League school like Harvard, which has no mention of affirmative consent and little mention of consent in general. On March 31, the Harvard Crimson published an anonymous op-ed from a student who was sexually harassed and was disappointed at the inaction taken as a result of the outdated sexual assault policy. The next day, the Crimson published that Harvard’s Undergraduate Council is working on a more comprehensive policy.

Sexual assault doesn’t get enough coverage for an issue with heavy consequences. The University needs to push out this information more and have every student exposed to it, not just the ones who are already actively seeking it.

Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center Lorraine Schroeder said bringing awareness to sexual assault is imperative.

“I especially think it’s important for us to have some sort of mandatory education about it for incoming students,” Shroeder said. “Universities may have a concern that we’ll scare people, but given the facts, I think it’s more important that we inform people.”

The exposure campaign is already beginning. Liberal arts junior Marylu Lopez experienced a prototype version of the University’s sexual education during her orientation.

“I thought it was very useful and at first, no one really liked to talk about it, but it was really helpful and informative,” Lopez said. “Something is better than nothing.”

More can still be done. Victims and those who support them: your voice is important. Let it be heard. Hold your University accountable. You have that right.

Opinion columnist Julie Nguyen is a communications junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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