Spaeth: Sexual assault prevention starts with education

Social problems such as sexual assault and harassment are perpetuated due to a lack of awareness and recognition. After an incident occurs, a survivor may not feel comfortable, or may even fear, coming forward and reporting it. Our society sustains the idea that the victim holds some of the guilt, so they fear reporting sexual misconduct. These are issues that can be challenged through education. Not only is it important for individuals to know what types of resources are available to them, we also need to educate the public about sexual assault and how to prevent it.

It’s better to educate people about sexual assault as early as possible, but there are many ways for individuals to adjust their attitude and help prevent sexual assault at any age. In 2017, the AAU (Association of American Universities) released data showing that on average, 16.7 percent of students across the 27 universities that were surveyed reported experiencing non-consensual sexual conduct. The University of Oregon is not innocent in this: it has found that 14.5 percent of students and 24.2 percent of female students have reported some sort of sexual assault. A growing number of universities are mandating more thorough sex education for students, but we are not going to change rape culture through a few workshops at a few schools. We need a nationwide reconstruction of sex education at universities and primary schools. Every single student should understand what sexual assault and harassment are and how to prevent them, as well as how to support survivors.

While it is clearly understood that change needs to happen, the difficulty lies in how. The University of Oregon has taken many steps in recent years to promote healthy sexual relationships and prevent sexual assault. It has spearheaded the Get Explicit program for incoming freshmen and transfer students. Through this program, students participate in a 90-minute interactive presentation about respect and boundaries. They are taught about how to protect themselves and others from sexual predators and suspend the cultural norms that tolerate sexual harassment and assault. This ensures that every student that attends UO understands what is expected of them as an individual, as well as a bystander. Since it began, the Get Explicit program has grown to include student ambassadors and is primarily student-run. The university has also collaborated with International Affairs to create sex and healthy relationship education videos, which are available in many languages.

Educating people about sexual assault and prevention strategies can only do so much. We should practice listening and be aware of the resources in our communities that are available to victims. A victim should never feel alone or think there is nothing they can do about their situation. We need to reiterate that it is not their fault and they deserve help if they desire it. Many schools and universities offer free counseling for victims and their friends, as well as other programs that can help individuals feel safe and supported.

The University of Oregon’s resources include:

  • Around the clock support for confidential advice and assistance to victims and friends of victims to receive help and support. If you are unsure as to where to start, call 541-346-7233 (SAFE) to be connected to somebody who will listen and guide you through your options.
  • Counseling services through the University Counseling Center to assist in healing.
  • Health services and academic accommodations to assist in accommodating the victim after an assault does occur.

Besides these options, there is also a myriad of other resources available through campus and local law enforcement as well as community agencies.

There are many things we can do to address the issue of sexual assault and misconduct: maintaining healthy relationships and supporting survivors are just two examples. But this all has to start somewhere — with nationwide reconstruction of sex education.

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Emma Spaeth

Emma Spaeth