The reality of sexual assault on college campuses

January 27, 2016


Matt Merlino

Sexual assault on campus

Every minute there are 20 people who fall victim to physical violence by an intimate partner in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. College campuses are no exception to this statistic.

The CDC defined sexual violence as “a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent.”

Sexual violence can also be described as acts such as unwanted sexual contact, non-contact unwanted sexual experiences, forced penetration of a victim, etc. Around 79 percent of female survivors of completed rape reported that they were first raped before the age of 25, according to the CDC.

College campuses are popular targets for sexual violence to occur. According to a survey conducted by the Association of American Universities earlier this year, 23 percent of undergraduate student women said that they had experienced sexual misconduct or sexual assault. A total of 11.7 percent of students from 27 universities who responded to the survey reported that they had experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact.

Lauren Rauscher, assistant professor of sociology and coordinator for the Women’s Leadership and Mentorship Program, said she has personally been informed of five assaults concerning students of Robert Morris. Employees of the university are considered mandatory or required reporters if they they hear or are told something regarding sexual violence. Rauscher has been required to report sexual assaults multiple times.

“Since I have been at RMU, I have had to report two. And I’ve only been here for two years,” said Rauscher. “And so I have conversations with the people who were involved to let them know and just be very clear this doesn’t mean you have to pursue anything, but I have to make the report so someone will be in contact with you.”

The first six weeks of a college female’s freshman year is known as the “Rape Red Zone.” This is when young women who are college students are most at risk to experience sexual assault or rape. Rauscher also stated that alcohol is more often than not involved in these types of situations. Sexual assault isn’t limited to just a few universities; it can and does happen everywhere.

“I think it’s a problem on all college campuses. I think that one report makes it a problem,” said Rauscher.

I think that one report makes it a problem.”

— Lauren Rauscher

In 1972, a law was passed that “requires equity for boys and girls in every education program that receives federal funding,” according to the Title IX website. This law is not limited to just athletics, but higher education overall. Sexual assault, sexual misconduct, rape, etc. are all covered under Title IX.

At Robert Morris, the Title IX office is located within the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (ODIE). Yasmin Purohit, chief diversity and inclusion officer of the Office of Diversity Inclusion, and Equity and Bethany Neiman, deputy Title IX coordinator and project manager of Office of Diversity Inclusion and Equity, both oversee Title IX here at RMU. Neiman and Purohit have taken on the role of educating the university of what Title IX is, including situations of sexual assault and misconduct.

If a student has been a victim of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, etc., they are able to go to the Title IX office to seek help and learn his or her options.

“Our goal is not to push a student in any particular direction… Essentially we are just an extra resource and our goal at the end of the day is to make sure students have all the options that they wish to move forward with,” said Neiman.

ODIE is responsible for internal university investigations based on the Title IX policy of sexual misconduct and relationship violence. This office looks to get all the facts and provide a safe and comfortable place to go after an incident like this has happened. Even if the student does not wish to move forward with an investigation, that student can still make a difference.

“(C)oming here and talking and then realizing that they (a student) have shared information that can get translated to initiatives at the university level,” said Purohit. “So though it might be one voice and might be a quiet voice… without sharing the person’s name we can actually take the message or information and say ‘Look, we need to have something, some programming on campus that does A, B, or C.’”

This year, ODIE has had several incidents that have led to investigations, which was double the amount of investigations from last year. This doesn’t necessarily mean that incidents have increased, but more people are starting to come forward about situations.

“When you say there’s an increase in reports, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an increase in behaviors,” said Neiman. “There trend is that the number of incidents is pretty consistent year to year, but the more you train people, I think that’s why we get more reports… because we’ve been out talking to people and people know that we’re a resource.”

These reports are not all sexual assault related since Title IX covers many equality problems. These include, but are not limited to, non-consensual touching, inappropriate tweets due to gender, Yik Yak postings or sexually inappropriate comments made face-to-face.

Purohit and Neiman are both pleased with how successful the education of Title IX has been since the program began. They believe that people are becoming more aware of what the title actually is as a result of the educational campaign. Purohit and Neiman feel proud that RMU is considered a safe campus and environment.

“We get high scores in student surveys, and Pittsburgh Action Against Rape did an assessment of our campus about a year and a half ago and we were one of the top universities in terms of safety preparation,” Purohit.

Honors student and senior, Amber Pramann, is writing her honors thesis on common rape myths, which as been a focus of hers for a while now.

“(W)hat I’m doing with my honors thesis is I’m asking college students a lot of questions about their perception of rape to understand, first of all, what that’s like on campus,” said Pramann. “Are we exhibiting a rape culture? Are we not? And then looking at the different groups of students and seeing if there is any trend there.”

She will be sending out a survey to students at the start of next semester titled, “Rape: A College Student’s Perspective.” Throughout the survey, different rape myths will be talked about including: a girl drinking too much, ‘she was asking for it,’ or the concept of consent is not needed once the woman is in a relationship.

Caroline Degan, professor of psychology at RMU, also has a private practice in Mount Lebanon where she is a counselor. She has had multiple students come up to her or other students report to her regarding sexual assault. Those that come forward to her are among the few to do so.

“The saddest thing is that those people that report, that actually come up and say, ‘how could this happen?’, they’re already leaps and bounds ahead of a lot of other individuals because, the thing is, nobody’s reporting,” said Degnan.

…the thing is, nobody’s reporting.”

— Caroline Degnan

In regards to the steps students should take after an incident occurs, she held the counseling center in high regards. Members of the staff in the counseling center are specifically trained to work with survivors. It is up to the student whether they want to just talk to the counseling center or take it to a higher level such as the police to press charges.

“In terms of just rape in general if you want to report it, as soon as you are aware of what happened, immediately go to the emergency room,” said Degnan. “Don’t shower, don’t change your clothes, as gross as you feel… literally just go because all of that is really important in terms of evidence and having charges filed.”

For more information on sexual assault and misconduct or to report anything, contact the RMU Counseling Center or Pittsburgh Action Against Rape. Feel free to call the 24/7 confidential helpline at 1-800-END-RAPE.

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