Letter to the editor: How to help after a sexual assault

Updated Oct. 22, 2014

The statistics regarding rape and sexual assault on college campuses across the nation are alarming.  We’ve all seen the statistics: between one and four or one in five women are victims of sexual assault during the time they are enrolled in college.  Attendance in college makes young women particularly vulnerable to sexual assault, according to a paper released by the White House.  Young men are not invulnerable, either.  Approximately 10 percent of all sexual assault victims are male, according to the Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN).  Other statistics are equally alarming, but are far less often cited.  For example, only a very small percentage of sexual assaults are false reports (2-8 percent), according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.  However, victims are often made to feel that they are disbelieved or suspected of lying.  Additionally, sexual assault is severely underreported and under-prosecuted.  In fact, only 3 percent of rapists ever spend a day in jail, according to RAINN.  Finally, research indicates that the majority of rapists on college campuses are repeat offenders, who commit an average of 5.8 rapes each, according to the article “Repeat rape and multiple offending among undetected rapists” by David Lisak and Paul Miller (2002).

Tarleton, like universities across the country, is working to address this overwhelming issue.  You may have seen some very public changes, including the addition of a Title IX website (which can be found by searching Title IX on the university homepage), and the transition from AlcoholEdu to Campus Clarity, which includes sexual assault prevention and response information. In the coming weeks, you are likely to be made aware of additional changes.

In the meantime, it is important for our students to know that they have free resources available.  The Student Counseling Center (254-968-9044) is free for all enrolled students and can provide confidential support.  Even after-hours, students who call the Student Counseling Center will be able to talk directly with a counselor.  The Student Health Center (254-968-9271) is also available to provide free, confidential guidance regarding health-related decisions, though there may be a charge for medical interventions.  Cross-Timbers Family Services is a free resource within the community and can be reached at 254-965-4357.  Please know that you are not alone.  We are here, and we want to help.

If a friend or a loved one of yours has been sexually assaulted, there are things you can do to help.  While there is no “right” way to respond to someone who has been sexually assaulted, there are some responses that are less helpful.  If someone discloses to you, it typically means that you’re someone they trust.  Often they just want to be heard – it is important to respond with kindness, support and concern.  Encourage your friend to take the time they need, and use whatever language they choose in order to share their experience.  Understand that people from different backgrounds may express or experience reactions to assault in different ways.  There is no right or wrong way for a survivor to react to sexual assault.  Validate your friend’s experiences and remind her/him that she/he is not at fault, even if unwise decisions were made.  Help your friend identify other safe people in their existing support system, and encourage (but do not force) your friend to seek medical attention and counseling.  Allow your friend to make their own decisions, and support those decisions, whatever they are.  It is important to avoid asking questions that might imply blame (things like “What were you doing there?”) or directly blame or judge (things like “You shouldn’t have worn that skirt” or “You shouldn’t have had so much to drink”).  It is also unhelpful to dismiss or minimize the experience by telling your friend that they should “forget about it.”

Please remember: we can create the campus climate we want and deserve; a climate where kindness, help and support are available for all, and where everyone can feel safe.

Dr. Stephanie Robertson, Student Counseling Center Director

*Editor’s note: This article and headline clarify ambiguous language that appeared in the Oct. 6, 2014 edition of Texan News.

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