by Eden Riegel, staff writer
|However, I have been asked by RAINN, the Rape Abuse & Incest
National Network, to talk to you during Sexual Assault Awareness
and Prevention Month about some of the not-so-great parts of
the college experience. Though no one likes to think about it,
evil is out there and bad stuff happens. But if you are aware
and vigilant in protecting yourself and your friends, there is
no reason that you can’t have a safe and happy college
Sexual assault and rape are quite common on college campuses.
Not every college student will be assaulted, but statistics show
you will know someone who was. Overall, one in six American women
is the victim of an attempted or completed rape. About 80 percent
of rape victims are under the age of 30 at the time of their
rape, so you are in a high-risk group.
What can you do? The good news is that while there are no hard
and fast ways to totally protect yourself from rape and sexual
assault, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of
becoming a victim. Take advantage of campus safety services and
programs. Don’t travel alone at night. Assess a situation
fully. Communicate. Trust your instincts. Know that “I
don’t want to” is always a good enough reason.
The world tends not to be black-and-white. Thankfully, there
are ways to navigate the gray areas. How do you know if you are
at risk? You, like all other living, breathing beings, have an
internal “comfort meter” to help you assess a situation.
If you are uncomfortable, check in with your meter. Ask yourself:
Who am I with? Do I trust these people? Am I really having fun?
Am I drunk? Am I thinking clearly?
Unfortunately, rapists do not wear signs, and they are not always
scary strangers in dark alleys. In fact, 66 percent of rape victims
know their assailant, and an attack can happen in what is seemingly
a normal social situation. If you feel at all uncomfortable in
a situation, speak up. If a guy is worth it, he’ll respond
to a direct statement of your feelings and concerns. If he’s
not, then congratulations — you got rid of a real jerk.
If, despite your best or worst efforts, you are assaulted, please
get help. The good news is, you are not alone and you don’t
have to go through it alone. People are out there to help. Reach
out to friends and mentors. Utilize on-campus services--your
campus advising office or your chaplain--or contact the National
Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE. The hotline provides
free, confidential local services around the clock.
If someone you know is the victim of a sexual assault, be supportive
and encourage her (or him) to get help. There are people out
there willing and able to help.
Finally, if you (or a friend) are the victim of a sexual assault,
don’t keep silent. Speak out and report the crime to police.
If rape remains a silent crime, victims will continue to suffer
in silence and perpetrators will remain free. The FBI ranks rape
as the second most serious violent crime, trailing only murder.
Yet, while nearly every murder is reported to police, fewer than
half of all rapes are reported.
The most effective things we can do to fight sexual violence
are to make sure that every attack is reported and demand that
every report is investigated.
Often there is a fear among victims that they will not be believed--because
alcohol or drugs were involved, because they agreed to a date,
or because they agreed to be alone with their assailant. Some
victims fear social fallout. Some harbor feelings of shame and
responsibility, as if they were somehow complicit in the crime.
It is not your fault. I’ll say it again, because it is
perhaps the world’s only moral absolute: It is not your
fault. No is no is no. No matter what.
You are a treasure, and you deserve the best these years have
to offer. So be safe, sensible, and informed. Know yourself,
be a friend, and speak out. You can help end sexual violence
on campus and in your community.
On leave from Harvard University, Eden Riegel plays Bianca Montgomery
on ABC’ s All My Children. She is also a supporter of RAINN
(www.rainn.org), which operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline
Photo by Baxter Cepeda
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