Sunday, May 19, 2024

April highlights ending sexual violence


By Nadia Paschal

April — Sexual Assault Awareness Month — is a time for survivors and those passionate about fighting the issue to come together and rally support for the cause. 

Dedicating a whole month to the topic shines a brighter spotlight on the problem and allows for more time to discuss it.

SAAM has especially grown in importance on college campuses, and SUNY Plattsburgh is no different. There’s a significant risk of experiencing sexual violence that comes with being in college and immersed in the culture that comes with it.

While attending college, one in five women, and one in 16 men will experience sexual assault, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. It’s concerning to look at how high these numbers are and how prevalent sexual violence is.

However, young adults have been pushing back to lower the rates and fight the stigma around speaking on the issue.

Emily Stanley, a senior in the social work program, expresses how passionate she is about the issue. Spending her time this semester interning at a local organization dedicated to stopping and providing care for those affected by sexual assault, she has seen just how important this movement is up close and personal. 

“It’s very empowering as a survivor and for other survivors and victims of sexual assault and sexual violence,” Stanley said. “It also reminds me that the work we do in Sexual Assault Awareness Month and in April also needs to continue outside of the month because it doesn’t stop the rest of the year. It’s constantly happening. That’s why we need to continually work on the issue.”

SUNY Plattsburgh and its students have held and been involved in many events, not only during April, but throughout the year. Some prominent events that have happened this month include Teal the Quad, Denim Day and the Take Back the Night Walk.

Stanley has also shown initiative in garnering student support for the cause. She started up the Plattsburgh chapter of Explain the Asterisk, which is unaffiliated with the school. The goal of the group  is to end sexual violence on college campuses by arguing for reform at all levels.

Although Stanley’s schedule does not allow her to hold meetings or events anymore, she organized two walkouts to bring attention to sexual violence during her time leading the group. She said she was grateful that it was a safe space, being student led and based, as they did not have to deal with pressure from staff and administration.

Sexual violence is not contained to one place, one group or one time of the year. However, there is a time of year when sexual violence on campus occurs the most, and it happens nowhere near April. Commonly referred to as The Red Zone, this period spans from the beginning of the fall semester to Thanksgiving break. 

This is when more than 50% of sexual assault cases occur, and although anyone can be affected, women entering their first year of college are at a higher risk than any other group, according to the Center for Women and families in Kentucky.

First-years are typically not as familiar with the campus, its dynamic and this new social scene. They are also unaware of safety protocols set by the campus, as these precautions and resources may be hard to locate and not made explicitly clear.

Stanley recognizes that this is not just an issue centric to this school, but to college culture in general — especially Greek life and the party scene.

“It’s very easy for it to flourish and manifest, where there’s a culture of power and control and secrecy and dominance. It’s very easy for it to happen there,” Stanley said.

More than 90% of survivors do not end up reporting the assault, also reported by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Oftentimes, they feel too intimidated to do so or believe that their case would be dismissed or mishandled. 

Progress may seem slow and at times halted, but students all across the nation continue to fight to lower the number of people affected by sexual violence. 

Stanley believes that education and prevention needs to focus on root cause and stopping rape culture. She pushes for students and staff to look to trauma informed models online that teach how to handle and discuss sexual violence with care and sensitivity.

“If you’re just focusing on afterwards, the issue is still going to happen,” Stanley said.

Change starts locally and it starts with you. Whether you’re a survivor, know a survivor, or want to begin educating yourself on the cause, now is the time.

“I’m sure there’s so many people who have been affected by it and it’s something that’s very close to their heart because of how prevalent it is,” Stanley said.


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