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Opinion

Taking precautions so everyone can help prevent sexual assault

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February 24, 2012

Since Valentine’s Day just passed, several of the campus residence halls themed their programs and activities around one topic this week: sex.

Primarily, the halls seek to incorporate education into fun events. They hope to increase understanding and awareness of what sex means, how to be safe, and spark healthy discussions. So now that Penis Bingo and Sex in the Dark set the stage for conversations about sex, it is time to introduce a more serious side, the topic of sexual assault.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four college women report being the victim of attempted or completed rape. While people often picture sexual assault to be violently executed in a dark alley or while drunk at a party, many instances do not fit the stereotype. For one, the CDC says over 70 percent of male and female victims knew their attacker.

Sexual assault can occur between friends, family members, or even in a relationship. Simply because a couple is exclusive does not automatically give either person an explicit right to the other’s body. Additionally, the assault can occur anywhere and while doing anything—walking in a park, at home watching a movie, at a friend’s baking cookies—it is not only when cornered alone in a bedroom.

Besides having a stereotype about the where, how and who of sexual assault, many people believe that only unexpected, forceful actions count. While these instances are obvious assault, most incidents do not happen that way. Sexual assault is simply any inappropriate contact to which a person did not consent. Anything from “copping a feel” to penetration can be sexual assault.

For example, if two people are cuddling and talking, and one begins and continues to make advances despite the other’s reluctancy, sexual assault occurred.

Since it is hard for most people to be assertive in an uncomfortable situation, especially if he or she cares about the person who is trying to go too far, most people will not yell out, “no, stop now!” Instead, they may offer more suggestive-sounding comments such as playfully pushing the person away and saying, “maybe we should watch a movie instead,” or ducking away from a kiss and saying, “you know, I really like cuddling with you.” While the words and actions vary, the message is clear: not now (possibly, not ever). If you catch yourself unsure of what the person wants or if they are OK with something, simply ask. Do not assume.

When sexual assault does occur, college students often have concerns about reporting the incident. One such concern is that if one or both people involved were drinking and underage, the victim fears being ticketed for drinking if he or she reports what happened. Rest assured, UW-River Falls has the students safety and well-being in mind. If a student reports being sexually assaulted while drinking, the college and police will focus on ensuring that student is healthy and protected, not on getting the student in trouble or issuing a drinking ticket.

Another instance in which a student may hesitate to report is if the victim knew his or her attacker because the victim does not want either of them to deal with the legal issues. However, the college again focuses on helping the victim, not hunting down the assaulter unless the victim decides to press charges or file a restraining order.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, please contact 911, University Police, the River Falls Clinic, or the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). SART in particular offers 24/7 service and can assist with any concerns regarding sexual assault. While seeking help may not be your first thought, it is the best route.

Sex can be fun and wonderful, but unwanted sexual contact can have lasting consequences, both physical and mental. Take the time to care for yourself right away. Go somewhere safe and call one of the above resources immediately.

However, if assault occurred far in your past and you now find it hard to deal with, contact the University’s Counseling Services or a local therapist for long-term counseling.

Jaime Haines is an exuberant puppy-lover and “House” addict and plans to use her psychology degree to encourage activism and well-being through counseling, workshops, speeches, and the written word.