Sexual Violence Awareness Week

by JENNIFER HA

If you were in the forum a few weeks ago, perhaps you saw the nondescript table full of chocolate bars sitting deceivingly close to the sign advertising the off campus supper. Perhaps you were one of the people who asked what was going on. Perhaps you were one of the people who participated. Perhaps you were one of the people who learned that the table was an interactive activity intended to raise awareness on sexual assault and still chose to walk away.

As a member of the newly formed Augustana Against Sexual Violence committee, I sat at that booth for a long time and talked to many members of campus about sexual violence.

It feels like we have been bombarded with news about sexual violence in the past few years. The now infamous “Stanford Rapist” Brock Turner was recently released from his three-month jail sentence after assaulting an unconscious woman. Every September, we hear about university organizations participating in behaviours that appear to promote sexual assault, such as the University of British Columbia’s 2013 controversy over a chant suggesting statutory rape. News about sexual assault on university campuses, against university students, and by university students seems to be everywhere—but the solutions seems to be nowhere. A quick glance at statistics or Augustana’s own Chillabit page makes it obvious that our campus is not immune.

When I was running the booth, which featured true or false questions about sexual assault and various scenarios for which participants were asked to explore a course of action, I was surprised at the depth of understanding that many participants displayed. Upon reading statements related to sexual assault, many people were quick to identify the truths. Sexual assault happens most often between people who know each other. Someone’s outfit has nothing to do with their assault. Sexual assault has an abysmal conviction rate in our criminal justice system.

I was also surprised at the amount of ignorance or, at the very least, thoughtlessness regarding sexual assault on campus. Upon reading a statement about women often “playing hard to get” and saying no when they actually mean yes, several people identified it as true. This statement, which can apply to all genders but is most often applied to women, justifies sexual assault and assumes that the perpetrator has a better idea of someone else’s desires than the individual themselves. This understanding is a part of rape culture and a part of our campus’s understanding of sexual assault.

The interactive booth will be returning to the forum as a part of Sexual Violence Awareness Week from March 20th to March 24th. Along with this booth, there will also be a campaign to pledge to prevent sexual assault, a campaign about believing survivors, and a city-wide Take Back the Night March on Friday.

The Augustana Against Sexual Violence committee has been active since the fall semester and have worked hard to address the issue of sexual violence on campus. Statistically, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. This statistic is an optimistic one, as it does not account for other forms of sexual violence including harassment. A University of Alberta survey found that 1 in 5 of our own undergraduates have experienced sexual violence.

Sexual assault on university campuses, particularly one as small as Augustana, is a complex issue. In order to prevent and address sexual assault and hold perpetrators accountable, we need to consider factors such as alcohol, bystanders, and legal procedures. Sexual Violence Awareness Week will be one important step towards a journey of eradicating sexual violence from our society.

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