Opinion: Colleges must do more to prevent sexual assault and help survivors

Victoria McCown
Oxford Stories

April is dedicated to many issues. These range from National Clean Out your Medicine Cabinet Month to Stress Awareness Month. One of the most important is sexual assault.

Sexual assault is one of the most discussed topics in the news. From the #metoo movement, to steps that have been taken to prevent sexual harassment in workplaces across the country, it’s hard to ignore.

However, out of all the strides taken to promote awareness, I began to wonder how or if colleges have kept up? After much research, I realized they have not.

Everyone learns the fact that one in four women will be sexually assaulted at some point in college. However, what few people know is how high that statistic is compared to any other time in our lives.

RAINN reported that college women ages 18-24 are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than any other age group, and 28.5 percent of undergraduate students of all genders are sexually assaulted in college.

While these stats are terrifying, it’s even when worse comparing the changes in percentages over time. According to RAINN, since 1993, rates of overall sexual violence have dropped 63 percent. But Lizzie Crocker, of The Daily Beast, reported that sexual assault rates among college students has skyrockets 205 percent.

These statistics make me believe that no one, not even on-campus counselor offices or assaulted women and men, is doing enough to speak out against it. Why not? Why aren’t college students trying to build a better community for ourselves and those younger than us?

Building a better community means opening up conversation about this topic. I understand it is depressing and, at times, even awkward to discuss. It is hard to expose fellow students, close friends, or strangers to something that is still deemed a gray area issue.

I am saying these things as a woman who has been a victim of both verbal and sexual violence. All I could think about at the time was how scared I was, how I was paralyzed by the idea that someone I considered a friend could do this to me.

I did not understand what the implications of me not going to someone and speaking my truth meant. It meant that one more case would go unheard. One more person would “get away with it,” and one more woman could be harmed after me.

So, when I say I understand, trust me, I do.

I am not alone in that; 80 percent of sexual violence victims in college never report their assaults.

It is because speaking out means being potentially isolated and excluded from people who once liked you or being branded as “that girl” or “that guy.” That was exactly what I was afraid of, and I am sure if it happened to me again, this fear would still be prevalent in my thought process and decision making.

What students don’t understand, and what took me so long to understand, is the more we speak up and open up conversation, the less likely these negative results will be. Not only that, but the monster that is sexual assault will start to shrink in size, and, hopefully over time, begin to become a rare sighting all together.

Students are not the only ones responsible for this number. I think the reason our percentage keeps climbing while others shrink is the lack of resources and information.

If I was sexually assaulted today, I would have no idea where to start the process of reporting said violence. Would I go through the school if he or she was a student? Would I go to the police and file a report? Would I go to the hospital? I never see anything about what actions I can take against a violator, and that brings tears to my eyes.

The fact that even now, having gone through what I went through, that I still would not know what to do terrifies me and makes me wonder how many people on my campus and campuses all over the country may not have access to that information.

That said, I am calling on colleges to wake up and understand that their students are suffering. We need better access to information about sexual assault, better service for victims of sexual violence, and, as scary as it is, I am calling on students to stop allowing this crime to happen in the shadows of colleges everywhere.

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