Are UO’s efforts to prevent sexual assault helping those who need it most?
Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
Nationally there has been an increase in coverage of sexual assault with the #MeToo movement and multiple public allegations of sexual misconduct against influential people such as Harvey Weinstein, former Alabama judge Roy Moore and Louis C.K.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and although many support events mark campus calendars at the University of Oregon, some students don’t feel represented in the dialogue and curriculum promoted by administration.
In a 2015 UO campus climate survey on sexual assault and sexual misconduct, only 36 percent of respondents said they believed campus officials would take action against the perpetrator of a reported sexual assault.
According to the climate survey, 55 percent of the respondents stated they believed a victim would be supported by other students and 53 percent believed that a report would be taken seriously by campus officials. Just under half of participants said that those reporting misconduct would be protected by campus officials.
To each of these questions, transgender, gay, queer and nonconforming students showed less confidence in UO’s reporting process than other participants. “Overall, TGQN students were least likely to believe that a report of sexual assault or sexual misconduct would be taken seriously,” according to the survey.
RAINN reports that transgender students are at a significantly higher risk than other students of experiencing sexual violence on college campuses.
In general, women of color experience rape at higher rates. Thirty-two percent of multiracial women, 27.5 percent of Native American women, and 21.2 percent of black women compared to only 20 percent of white women and 13.6 percent of hispanic women were raped during their lifetimes, according to a 2014 CDC report.
Some students at UO say university prevention efforts don’t offer enough support and resources for those most at risk of experiencing sexual assault, like people of color and LGBTQ identified people.
University of Oregon’s Approach to Sexual Assault
In 2014, three university reports assessed sexual violence on campus and offered recommendations to Interim President Scott Coltrane. One of the reports estimated that 12 women a week are victims of attempted or completed rape at UO.
Coltrane announced a commitment of money, resources and programming to preventing sexual violence at UO. While not all of his recommendations have been completed, this push brought students programs like Get Explicit, a new Associate Vice President and Title IX Coordinator and an Fraternity and Sorority Life sexual violence prevention team.
At the Board of Trustees meeting in March, UO President Michael Schill applauded the university’s work on the issue of sexual violence on campus.
ASUO Wellness and Safety Advocate, Maya Date, took to the microphone to disagree with Schill.
“I would like to reiterate that UO is not doing a good job with their sexual violence prevention,” Date said at the meeting. “You say this campus is a place where survivors feel comfortable talking about their stories. That is just not true.”
Date collaborates with sexual violence prevention groups like the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team, the Title IX office, the office of the Dean of Students and Safe Ride through her position with ASUO. But Date feels people of color and queer students don’t see themselves reflected in resources like the scenarios of Get Explicit, a sexual violence prevention workshop for first-year students, or the online prevention training, Haven, another first-year program.
As a woman of color herself, she said she is passionate about this issue because she sees how much it affects her and those around her.
This year’s Take Back the Night theme is “decolonization,” specifically honoring Native American women, a group that Date said has been especially marginalized in sexual violence discussions.
Native Americans are twice as likely to experience a rape or sexual assault compared to all races, according to RAINN’s website.
“Native women are being cut out of these narratives,” Date said.
So much of the discourse surrounding sexual violence, Date said, becomes an issue of “who’s the loudest.” For minorities and marginalized groups lacking resources that other groups have access to, their voices might not be able to reach the same volume as others, she said.
Kerry Frazee, director of prevention services and organizer of UO’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month events, said the events and services are about honoring those who have been harmed, in addition to continuing awareness and education efforts.
“It’s a community effort, not an individual approach,” she said. “Students want to be a part of the solution.”
This month’s events include a display featuring the number 3250, the number of student the SVP Board estimates will be assaulted during their time at UO. It’s covered in sticky notes with pledges from people of what they’ll do to reduce the instances of sexual violence. At athletic events, athletes wore teal shoelaces, the color of sexual assault awareness.
In addition these campaigns, Frazee noted work of groups like Combined Culture, a UO group “committed to improving their respective communities through film and art” according to their website. The group created a video titled “Rewritten” featuring a scene at a party that could’ve led to a woman getting assaulted in a man’s bedroom but instead ended when she expressed discomfort.
UO psychology professor and author of a 2014 UO Sexual Violence and Institutional Betrayal Survey, Jennifer Freyd, said that while the rate at which people, especially on college campuses, are talking about sexual violence has improved, there is still work to be done.
“There’s been lots of increased attention to the problem, but I also think there’s a long way to go, that we probably need a lot more of that than we have right now,” Freyd said. “I think things are in better shape than they were in 2014, but we don’t actually have evidence we have been able to reduce the instances of sexual violence.”
Freyd’s study examined sexual violence experiences in members of FSL. In 2015, 26 percent of female participants not affiliated with FSL said they experienced unwanted physical sexual contact of any kind. But among female participants affiliated with FSL, 35 percent reported the same thing.
Within FSL, chapters have a representative on their own Sexual Violence Prevention team that works with Frazee. One of those representatives, Leah Cave, also sees a need to include different voices in the conversation, including polyamorous relationships and asexuality. Because there are no resources for those relationships and it’s not talked about, Cave said she doesn’t think those people feel supported in these spaces.
One effort of the FSL Sexual Violence Prevention Board is to provide a SWAT presentation for each fraternity. While Date said that’s a great idea, she thinks there needs to be more accountability in making sure these presentations happen and are productive.
Another category of people Freyd says isn’t as active in these conversations as they should be is men.
“We need to really take on the issues of how men are socialized and the kind of masculinity they learn and to really involve men in fixing and addressing this problem,” said Freyd. “We’re not going to stop it until we significantly involve men in this.”
According to a study by the CDC in 2010, men are much more likely to be perpetrators of sexual assault; 98.1 percent of women and 93.3 percent of men who were victims of rape reported male perpetrators. However, the data shows that in instances of sexual coercion against men, 86.3 percent of the perpetrators were women.
The Future of UO’s Sexual Assault Prevention
In order to see real change on campus and beyond, Freyd said there needs to be more of an emphasis on research.
“The university, like many universities, talks about training, like we can somehow just train people not to rape other people,” she said. “There’s very little evidence that that does anything.”
Freyd said she thinks students should continue their work on this issue and should put pressure on the university and administration to back up their official statements and policies with real change.
“There’s this tendency to talk, to say, ’The University of Oregon doesn’t tolerate sexual violence,’ but that kind of statement doesn’t have any force,” said Freyd. “Maybe it’s better than nothing, but you really need to commit serious resources if that’s the case.”
She said the resources that have been committed increased administrative capacity and some services.
“Where it’s been lacking is to support the knowledge, creation and the really hard work we need to do,” said Freyd.
Date said one the best things she thinks people can do it get involved and put actions behind their words.
“If you’re not helping, you can’t be mad if it’s not changing,” said Date.
While she feels all of the campus efforts and events are necessary, she said the “narrative needs to be expanded” and more representative of the students body it’s affecting.
As Sexual Assault Awareness Month comes to a close, Freyd said she thinks universities, especially UO, can and should be on the front lines of this issue and approach it from a cultural perspective.
“What we really need is a culture shift, which probably involves a lot deeper kinds of educational experiences,” Freyd said. “It’s a much bigger commitment and a much deeper thing we need to do, I think, than we’ve yet done.”
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