State College police Lt. Keith Robb has seen sexual assaults in this college town for 20 years.
Although the public perception may be that sexual assault is becoming more common, he said he thinks the rate has remained statistically unchanged in those two decades.
The increase is not in the crime, he said, but in the awareness of it. Another consistent factor is that sexual assaults are underreported, he said.
“It’s still something that we’re only scratching the surface,” Robb said. “I’m hoping with this awareness — the support system set up by the university — we will get more women more comfortable with reporting.”
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Statistically, the majority of sexual assaults on students originate from or occur inside a fraternity, Robb said. But he said he thinks this is not because of the fraternities themselves but because of the size of the parties.
Interfraternity Council President Dan Combs said Penn State fraternities have been addressing sexual assault through events such as the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event co-sponsored by the Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity; involvement with President Barack Obama’s It’s On Us campaign against sexual assault; educational programs such as Men Against Violence; and increased “subliminal messaging.”
At a recent Greek life party, wristbands were handed out with messages to remind attendees to watch their behavior: for men, “Don’t be that guy”; for women, “Sex without consent is sexual assault.”
Combs said that the creation of Men Against Violence, a campus organization, began the conversation on sexual assault in fraternities and that education will help prevent assaults.
“I think 99.9 percent of fraternities are supportive of this fight against sexual assault, but they aren’t aware of what the term sexual assault really includes,” Combs said. The stereotype of a rapist being a masked man attacking women from behind the bushes still prevails, he said.
Robb said the police have tried to improve their response to sexual assault reports.
In the past, a victim had to recite the experience to a police officer, the hospital staff and then to an advocate from the Women’s Resource Center. As a result, the three interviewers would often “not be on the same page,” he said.
The sexual assault response team, known as SART, was created as a result. Now the officer, a forensic nurse and the advocate meet together with the person receiving treatment before the physical exam begins. If he or she desires a support system, a friend or family member is also allowed to be present.
In their downtown safety program, police instruct patrolling student volunteers to look out for men taking home young women who appear to be overly intoxicated.
“Nine times out of 10, they know each other ... but once in a blue moon we have a situation where the guy is claiming to be doing a good thing, but this girl has no idea who this guy is that’s walking her home. So we make sure she gets home safe,” Robb said.
“As a guy, the amount of times I’ve personally worried about sexual assault is few to none,” said Josh Looney, a senior majoring in engineering. “However, I have stuck with a group of girls or walked a girl to her car or home because I’m aware of the insecurity a girl must feel doing these things alone at night.”
“I’ve noticed for the first time ever sexual assault is actually being defined for me instead of figuring out what sexual assault was after someone did something wrong.” Looney said. “Boys don’t get a checklist of inappropriate sexual advances at puberty, and they probably should.”