SIUE discussion panel focuses on sexual assault prevention

Research has shown that prevention programs focusing on reducing rape myths, increasing sexual knowledge and encouraging bystander intervention have been proven to be effective, according to Dayna Henry, professor of Kinesiology & Health Education.

The above panel addressed students and faculty members about sexual assault prevention programs on campus and nationwide research statistics. Martinez, Henry and Whiteside spoke about university policy, statistics and myths regarding sexual assault, and how to assist a potential victim as a bystander. Photo by Theresa San Luis.

Henry, Chad Martinez, Director, SIUE Office of Equal Opportunity, Access (EOA) and Title IX Coordination and Ashley Whiteside of SIUE Counseling Services discussed topics regarding sexual assault such as definition of consent, university policy and means of prevention to roughly 40 attendees.

The panel discussion, titled, “New Perspectives on Campus Sexual Assault” was organized by the Women’s Studies program.

Women’s Studies program director Catherine Seltzer said she thought the event was a successful one.

“I was just delighted to have a full room and particularly, students in attendance for a discussion of such an important issue,” Seltzer said.

Henry said sexual assault is a problem especially on college campuses as nationwide statistics reveal that one in five women experienced rape or attempted rape while at college.

“So to raise awareness to help people understand that there are ways to really prevent it–SIUE is doing something to address the problem,” Henry said.

The panel discussed some common rape myths according to research.

They may include the following: If women really did not want the sex, she could have fought him off. If you go to a date’s home, you are responsible if you are raped. If women wear tight or revealing clothing they are responsible.

Henry said it is important to be clear that these are false; that endorsement of rape myths is one of the reasons that sexual assault occurs and women are reluctant to report them when they happen.

“According to research, so few rapes are reported because women think they are going to get blamed somehow,” Henry said.

Henry said her main goal in addressing sexual assault is to let people know they can have consensual sex and that their sex can be good.

“Obviously, we want to raise awareness about sexual assault and we know from the research that many sexual assault prevention programs focus on victim blaming,” Henry said.  “So telling women watch what’s in your drink or go with a buddy–those just perpetuate rape myths. They don’t actually do anything to prevent sexual assault.”

She added that what really needs to be done is to change the culture and change the way people talk about sexual assault.

According to Henry, people must get consent and give consent.

Martinez shared the policy that defines consent as “Freely and knowingly given agreement to the act of sexual conduct or sexual penetration in question. Consent is demonstrated through mutually understandable words and/or actions that clearly indicate a willingness to engage freely in sexual activity.”

Henry said even if that is awkward and uncomfortable, consent is what people need to establish in order to prevent sexual assault from happening.

Henry added that it is important for people to know that when people are intoxicated they should take a rain check and not have sex with the other person because you cannot give consent.

The best way, according to Henry, to prevent sexual assault is to have system wide change within the university.

“Everyone needs to be aware from the administration to the students,” Henry said. “Faculty can join a task force, go to events or bring it up in discussion in class. Whenever you hear someone make a joke about rape or endorse rape myths by victim blaming or objectifying women’s bodies, tell them it’s not funny and that’s how you change the culture.”

Whiteside discussed bystander intervention where a witness to a potential sexual assault can actively prevent it by assisting the potential victim.

“That was one I think everyone can do because I think a lot of prevention efforts focus on men verses women or target populations like Greek life and athletes,” Whiteside said. “So with bystander intervention we can have more of a community approach because everybody can do it.”

Whiteside said victims of sexual assault can come to Counseling Services and where their information remains confidential. They can also report the incident to the Office of Equal Opportunity or to the police.

“We encourage survivors to report to the police or EOA and we will provide advocates to help them to do so, if they wish to report,” Whiteside said. “Students can always meet with a counselor for confidential services, as well as receive additional support, as necessary.”

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