National statistics indicate one in four women will experience a sexual assault while in college, but many believe a sense of shame still surrounds victims.
Communities and university campuses across the country are coming together this month for Sexual Assault Awareness Month and with the goal of breaking down those stereotypes and promoting conversation and support.
Various organizations on the University of Idaho campus – including Vandal Health, the UI Women’s Center and Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse – are teaming up to provide events and spread the word about available services to the campus community.
“It is something that unfortunately does affect our community,” Bekah MillerMacPhee, assistant director for programs with the Women’s Center, said.
The goal is to make the community, including students, staff and faculty, aware that this is happening on campus and to support student survivors, she said.
“This is an uncomfortable topic and it is hard for people to talk about,” MillerMacPhee said.
Jorge Olivas, a freshman at the UI, said no one wants to talk about sexual assualt with their friends and he worries many victims are afraid to come forward.
“Nobody likes to talk about dark things,” he said. “We kind of just push them into the shadows.”
MillerMacPhee said she believes even women who have not personally experienced assault know others on campus who have or at least have had an unsafe feeling walking home at night or choose not to drink at a party out of fear.
UI senior Alison Rogers said it is important to talk about these issues because such a broad range of people are effected.
“I live in a sorority and I feel like I know a number of people who have been affected by sexual assault or relationship violence,” Rogers said.
Rogers said changes need to be made to the attitudes and social norms as to what can or cannot be accepted about sexual assault.
Olivas said that is why it is important to create open and safe environments to talk about these issues, such as is done during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
MillerMacPhee said she believes people on college campuses are talking more and more about it because there are spaces to have the conversations and an expectation from students and staff.
“It gives me a lot of hope to see that people are willing to be engaged,” she said.
Rogers said she hopes people realize sexual assaults and violence in relationships are happening more than what is being reported and that they work to see serious changes are made.
Emily Tuschhoff, health education coordinator for Vandal Health Education, said she hopes by getting more organizations involved on campus that more students can be reached, either for awareness or to connect to support services. The three main services available on campus are Counseling and Testing Services, the Women’s Center and ATVP, she said.
Events for the coming month include opportunities to decorate T-shirts for a clothesline project that will be on display the last week of the month, talks by students and advocates, Denim Day and a Zumbathon. For a full list of UI activities and information, go to http://goo.gl/df0u4o.
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