April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). As explained by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, SAAM was officially adopted by the federal government in 2001 and aims to expand education related to sexual assault prevention and victim advocacy. Given this, it’s important that we as a community take time this month, and throughout the year, to educate ourselves, critically examine ourselves and our friends and think about what it means to fight against sexual assault.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States, an estimated 13% of all students have reported being sexually assaulted during their time in college or graduate school. The majority of these students identify as female, transgender, non-binary and gender nonconforming. This number represents only the people who have reported being sexually assaulted, but does not include incidents of sexual harassment, stalking or unreported assaults.
This percentage should be highly alarming to anyone involved in a campus community. Sexual assault and other harassment happen, frequently, to people like Berry students. The reality is that it happens to Berry students. We need to start talking about this more, begin figuring out ways to stop sexual assault and harassment and create a safer and inclusive environment for all.
The Sexual Assault Prevention for Undergraduates training module that was sent out to students from the Dean of Students Office on Mar. 18 was a good first step towards discussing these issues, but as a campus community we all have the responsibility to take it further.
We all have the responsibility to learn more about the complexities of consent, and take that information to examine our own lives and relationships. Are you ensuring that you have complete, assured, uncoerced and capacitated consent from a person not just when you’re engaging in a sexual activity, but whenever you touch them? Or whenever you discuss sex and relationships with them? Or whenever you have a conversation about them related to sex? Do your friends fully understand consent, and are you working to hold them accountable for that? Do you speak up when you hear or see someone violating the consensual boundaries someone else has put up? We need to constantly be analyzing ourselves, and those around us, to make sure that we are fully understanding, and implementing that full understanding, of consent at all times.
Further than that, we have the responsibility to teach ourselves how rates of sexual assault and harassment are compounded by identity. According to a series of studies compiled by Inside Higher Education, students living on college campus who are in “racial, sexual and gender minority groups’’ are significantly more likely to be victims of sexual harassment and assault than their peers. For example, the study explains that transgender men are 300% more likely to be victims of sexual assault than cisgender men. Berry is a predominately white institution with a homogenously white, straight, cisgender and Christian student body. Because of that, it’s entirely more important that we recognize these issues are compounded by identity and incorporate that more into discussions about how to improve our campus environment.
People don’t talk about sexual assault at Berry. Maybe that’s because it isn’t a problem, but more likely that’s because we have not created a comfortable enough environment for people affected by these issues to speak out. We can begin to change that by addressing our individual biases and actions, but we need more concrete action at an institutional level as well. Berry students, faculty and staff need to be required to more regularly engage with sexual assault and Title IX training. The recent EVERFI module was a good start, but it needs to continue. The module’s description of consent was surface level, not covering the complex situations that are truly what create sexual assault issues. The module only discussed relationships between cisgender people. Aside from a short tab about the LGBT+ community and an example of one relationship between two men, it has little representation or discussion of how sexual assault has a compounded impact on the LGBT+ community. The module does little to teach students about how marginalized groups, such as people of color, people without American citizenship or people with disabilities, are similarly more likely to be the victims of sexual assault and less likely to feel comfortable discussing it with authorities. This is all crucial information that Berry community members need to learn about.
In the future, in addition to all Berry community members individually committing to self-education and responsibility, Berry as a college should implement more holistic and mandatory sexual assault training. Starting with the basics at the beginning of students’ college experience is good and necessary. But we should be continuing that education and making that education more inclusive and well-rounded throughout everyone’s time at Berry.