After the attack on a student near campus Oct. 3, sexual assault has been a topic on many students’ minds. Since then UMHB has joined the national conversation as government and university officials work to combat the issue.
“Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported, underrepresented crimes,” says Suzanne Armour, director of Families in Crisis, an organization that provides support services in Bell County.
“It’s an intimate crime that many don’t want to talk about.”
Every two minutes, another American is sexually assaulted, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey. The problem is not limited to dark alleyways or empty parking lots.
College campuses across the country are hotspots for attack with an assault happening once every 21 hours on campus grounds, according to a National College Health Risk Behavior Survey.
The recent assault took place near campus with the suspect representing himself as a police officer by wearing a black pull-over shirt with the word “police” on it and a baseball cap with a police badge on it.
“Generally, all UMHB officials wear a police uniform and are not dressed as the suspect in this case,” UMHB Officer Gary Sargent wrote in an email to students. “All police officers are required to carry an identification card …You should feel comfortable in asking to see an officer’s identification. If you would like an escort on campus, contact the UMHB Police Department at 295-5555,” Sargent said.
Many students are wary of attacks by strangers, but researchers say in 90 percent of cases survivors knew their perpetrators. The epidemic particularly affects college women; an estimated one in four women will experience rape or attempted rape during her academic career. According to the National Institute of Justice, about half of attacks against college women happen in the context of a party or date.
UMHB has several resources for students to report sexual assaults including a new link on the Student Life section of their website.
“A student can report to UMHB officials in person, in writing, by mail or by email to the officials listed on our ‘Report It!’ website,” said Vice President for Student Life, Dr. Byron Weathersbee.
“It is important to know that a university official will help a student report the incident to law enforcement,” he said.
Some officials say one method of prevention is to instruct students about the use of alcohol in these cases.
“It is a societal problem that needs to be addressed. Seventy-five percent of sexual assault cases involve alcohol,” Weathersbee says. “In my opinion, a good place to start would be alcohol education among college students.”
“Anyone engaging in sexual activities with a person incapacitated by alcohol or drugs is committing sexual assault,” the university states on its website.
Another technique is to educate students about the definition of consent and the bystander effect.
“The (bystander effect)… is a situation where when there is someone in need, the more people present the less likely someone is to help,” says Dr. Lindsey Doe, a professor of human sexuality in the biology department of the University of Montana.
Dr. Carrie Keating, a professor of psychology at Colgate University agrees that many sexual assaults can be prevented by bystanders reaching out to intervene when they see suspicious situations.
She said, “The harm of saying something is really quite small when you stop to think about it, but we’re so sensitive to embarrassment, to stepping out of line, to one another’s privacy, that sometimes we don’t step up when real action is called for.”