Sexual assault is a sensitive topic to discuss, but on a college campus like USD, it’s especially imperative to address the issue.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college, and 90 percent of victims don’t report their assaults. Often, this is because of the trauma surrounding the assault, fear of victim-blaming or being revictimized in court.
The panel included Tena Haraldson, director of communications; David Herbster, athletic director; Khara Iverson, Title IX coordinator; Debra Robertson, coordinator of mental health services and Kim Grieve, dean of students and vice president of student services.
One recurring theme of the night was transparency. In their comments and questions, students made it clear that have concerns regarding the accountability of administration in handling sexual assault claims and investigations. In order to ensure that these concerns are addressed, more discussions like this need to take place on campus so students can talk with administrators face to face.
Students should always be included in these discussions – we’re more in touch with campus and we can enact change on a person-to-person basis.
The town hall opened discussion and continued the conversation surrounding sexual assault, however, more of this dialogue needs to take place on campus. One town hall can’t cover every issue surrounding sexual violence.
These types of public events should take place proactively, not reactively. Multiple audience members were critical of the decision to start hosting these types of events now after the recent sexual assault claim.
Sara Lampert, assistant professor of history and program coordinator for women gender and sexuality studies, spoke up at the debate about how discussions regarding sexual assault shouldn’t be one-time events. She asked the panel what they’d do to continue these conversations.
In a previous interview with The Volante regarding the #MeToo movement, Lampert said society needs to continue focusing on the issue of sexual assault and harassment.
“What we as a society need to come back to is what do we do with this? How sustained is our attention to and our desire to address these problems?” Lampert said.
Lampert said the survivors of sexual assault don’t owe people their stories.
“The idea that survivors should have to explain and convince the public and should have to convince men and men in power that this is a problem is really kind of sad,” Lampert said. “We shouldn’t be putting that work on survivors.”
USD does offer resources to help students get help in the event of a sexual assault, including Student Services, the Title IX and Equal Opportunity office, UPD, the Student Counseling Center, the Psychological Services Center, Victim Advocacy Services, Student Legal Aid and Domestic Violence Safe Options Services.
While USD has been taking steps in the right direction through the ICARE grant, that alone won’t stop sexual assaults or educate the entire USD community. It’s going to take more conversations, and an engaged student body, to prevent sexual assault and to empower victims to report.
Sexual assault isn’t going away. It shouldn’t be treated as something people learn about at the beginning of the school year, through a series of a few videos and slideshows. It should be discussed proactively and include all campus demographics.
It takes time, and it takes commitment to create sustainable change in a community, especially when it comes to the complex issue of sexual assault.