Southeast takes new measures to decrease sexual violence on campus
Southeast Missouri State University is taking new measures to decrease sexual violence on campus.
According the the Rape, Assault and Incest National Network, on average, 23 percent of college-age women and 5 percent of college-age men are victims of sexual assault. At Southeast, in the 2016 academic year, seven cases of sexual assault and three cases of sexual misconduct were reported to the university. While these numbers are up from previous years, Donna St. Sauver, coordinator of the the Campus Violence Prevention Program, said the increase is nothing to be afraid of.
“As we do an excellent job in our prevention and outreach, as we raise awareness, we do see the number of sexual assaults that are reported increasing,” St. Sauver said. “That can be alarming, but we need to remember it’s because we’re creating a culture that supports survivors.”
Education about sexual assault is increasing at Southeast. Two chapters discussing healthy relationships and prevention have been added the to the university’s UI 100 textbooks and the My Student Body — a required entry course for incoming freshmen — both serve as educational tools for students when they first come to Southeast. Added education can come from presentations from Redhawks Rising and CVPP or outreach programs.
“I don’t think you can do too much education,” St. Sauver said.
Sexual assault prevention is often taught by enforcing risk reduction by providing tips like watching over drinks when at parties, limiting the consumption of alcohol or traveling in groups.
Kendra Eads, executive director of the Southeast Missouri chapter of the Network Against Sexual Violence (SEMO-NASV), said a focus on preventative measures places blame on the behavior of the victim and not the perpetrator.
“It’s not about what you were wearing or what you drank, it’s not about any of those things that put blame on behavior,” Eads said.
Julie Watson, a student at Southeast who was assaulted last year, said in her case, preventative measures didn’t help her.
Eads, Watson and St. Sauver said educating students about the importance and meaning of consent is the main step in preventing sexual assault.
The university defines consent as “an affirmative decision to engage in mutually acceptable sexual activity given by clear actions or words” and says that “Students should understand that consent may not be inferred from silence, passivity or lack of active resistance alone. Furthermore, a current or previous dating or sexual relationship is not sufficient to constitute consent, and consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to other forms of sexual activity.” The university also states that intoxication or incapacitation does not qualify a person to consent.
“We need to be teaching about consent early on,” Eads said. “Our education needs to be focused on a potential perpetrator instead of the victim.”
Eads added any type of prevention advice comes with a modicum of judgment and sexism.
“We should be able to do anything we want to without assuming that someone is going to violate us,” Eads said.
As a victim’s advocate for the SEMO-NASV and a key member of the campus crisis response team, St. Sauver works directly with Southeast’s victims. She said many of them wanted to form a group that could provide support for students and provide education to the rest of campus. Thus began Redhawks Rising, a sexual assault advocacy and education group, made up of student victims of sexual assault or domestic violence, as well as supporters with a mission to prevent sexual violence via education and outreach.
According to St. Sauver, one of the most effective ways to prevent sexual assault is through bystander prevention, which encourages students to step in and help their peers if they think a sexual assault may take place. Bystander intervention encourages students to be aware of their surroundings and take responsibility if they suspect a sexual assault may occur or has occurred.
“Many sexual assaults on a college campus involve alcohol, so when you have students who are paying attention to their surroundings and taking an interest in helping their community, they can identify if someone is too intoxicated to make decisions by themselves and they can help them,” St. Sauver said.
CVPP released a video earlier this semester depicting a number of scenarios such as students lying on the ground appearing unconscious or crying alone on the steps of Kent Library to demonstrate the importance of bystander intervention. In most scenarios, passing students addressed the students in distress within minutes.
St. Sauver said CVPP and Redhawks Rising are also focusing on including men as partners in prevention. Last semester, CVPP partnered with the Redhawks football team for a number of events that promoted prevention and awareness of sexual assault. The group also hosted the Stache Bash, which encouraged male students to join the conversation.
Organizations wanting to have a presentation from Redhawks Rising or CVPP can fill out a form at http://www.semo.edu/ucs/violence-prevention/.