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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 experience.

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 (1-800-656-HOPE).
Photo by Baxter Cepeda


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