As a college student returning from a summer off (or a summer filled with classes), sexual assault is probably the last thing on your mind. Unfortunately, it shouldn’t be.
One in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. College women, especially freshmen, are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to sexual assault. This happens particularly during the first six weeks of the semester, or a time commonly referred to as “The Red Zone.”
The sexual predator that you should be watching for is not a masked stranger with a knife in an alley. It’s the nice guy who invited you to a frat party, or the one who offers to buy you a drink at the bar. Please don’t misunderstand; not all men are sexual predators and not all sexual predators are men. However, the chances are pretty good that if you are a victim of a sexual assault, in most cases the assault will be committed by someone you know, and the weapon they use will be alcohol. Not only is alcohol used to immobilize victims, but when a person is intoxicated consent cannot be legally given. At least half of all acquaintance sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim or, most commonly, both people.
There are a lot of people working to change this reality, both on campus and in our community, but until that change happens, there are things that all students should be aware of and things that you can do as a member of this community. The truth is that only a perpetrator can prevent an assault from happening by not assaulting someone in the first place. But we all have a role to play in supporting a culture that does not accept sexual assault as a given. We can take steps to lessen our risk of becoming a victim, and we can commit to being an active bystander who will step in or get help for someone at risk.
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What you can do
Support a culture that does not accept sexual assault as a given. Avoid responding to peer pressure that encourages “scoring” and bragging about sexual activity. Instead, use peer pressure positively to discourage exploitation of others. For example, don’t engage in “locker room” talk about women or laugh at rape jokes. Know that if someone is intoxicated they can’t consent to sexual activity.
Be proactive — there are little things you can do to make it less likely that concerning behaviors ever happen. This might include having a conversation with a friend about this issue, wearing an anti-violence message on a T-shirt or pin, posting a bystander message on Facebook, or tweeting about bystanders’ role in violence prevention.
Take steps to lessen your risk of becoming a victim. Trust your “gut” feelings. If you start to feel uncomfortable or unsafe, listen to your feelings and act on them. Get yourself out of the situation. Call for help.
Go to parties or clubs with friends you can trust and agree to look out for one another. At parties where there is drinking or drugs, appoint a “designated sober person” who will look out for the others in the group by regularly checking on them. Leave parties with people you know.
Be an active bystander who will step in or get help for someone who might be at risk. Get involved if you think someone else might be in trouble. If you see someone who could be about to commit rape or become a victim, help them. Contact Penn State’s Stand for State to take part in a training to learn how to safely intervene in troubling situations.
Report events you witness to the police by calling 911 or get more information about reporting and resources at Penn State by visiting www.psu.edu/ hotlines.
Most importantly, if you or someone you know has already experienced a sexual assault or any kind of intimate partner violence, know there are resources available and people who can help. No one deserves this, and you are not alone. If you need to speak to someone or would like more information you can contact the Center for Women Students at 863-2027 or the Centre County Women’s Resource Center at 877-234-5050 or visit us at ccwrc.org. CCWRC services are free and confidential and inclusive of all gender identities and sexual orientations.
Lindsey Faussette is the director of outreach and education at the Centre County Women’s Resource Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a victim of sexual assault, it’s important to get the help you need. The following services are free.
Centre County Women’s Resource Center, 140 W. Nittany Ave., State College
24-hour hotline: 877-234-5050
Center for Women Students, 204 Boucke Building
Office of Student Conduct, 120 Boucke Building
University Police, Eisenhower Parking Deck
Counseling & Psychological Services, Student Health Center
Mount Nittany Medical Center, 1800 E. Park Ave., State College
231-7000 (general information)
234-6100 (emergency medicine)
University Health Services, Student Health Center
863-0774 (appointments); schedule appointments online, studentaffairs.psu.edu/health/myUHS/
863-4463 (advice nurse, 24/7)
Penn State’s Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Hotline
800-560-1637 or 866-714-7177 (for the hearing impaired)