By Rebecca Flannery
Rates of campus sex crimes are on a steady rise nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Bear Up Now: Courage Takes Action, a Baylor-created campaign launches Tuesday and aims to combat this national trend by arming students with knowledge.
“Ninety percent of rapes happen between acquaintances,” said Baylor psychologist Dr. Cheryl Wooten. “That’s something students need to be aware of.”
Wooten, along with 14 other faculty members in varying Baylor departments, is a member of the Sexual Assault Advisory Board, which two weekends ago finalized plans on a long-anticipated educational campaign.
The launching of Baylor’s campaign comes at a time when the national spotlight has been placed on a need for increased awareness of campus sex crimes. In June, the Department of Education suggested a rule requiring universities to compile statistics for dating abuse, domestic abuse and stalking in response to the call for more awareness, according to the department’s website.
According to a study by the department, the number of reported forcible sex crimes on campus reported increased by 52 percent, from 2,200 in 2001 to 3,300 in 2011.
Wooten said it is the responsibility of the department and other entities such as the Office of Civil Rights to enforce rules that prevent the occurrence of these crimes on campuses and these organizations only recently realized enough was not being done.
Ultimately, education on prevention and the dangers of sexual assault is the first defense against attacks, Wooten said. “Bear Up Now” will provide free informational meetings to freshmen during their first weeks on campus.
“Girls’ Night Out” for freshmen women is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and “Guys’ Night Out” for freshmen men is at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in Waco Hall.
This campaign is an extension of the usual lecture-type information sessions students have had in the past, Wooten said. The interactive session will include games with giveaways and drawings to engage the freshmen in attendance.
The campaign’s website, BearUpNow.com, will provide students with further information to prevent sexual assaults along with contact information. The site will be available to view Tuesday.
“We don’t want to just provide students with the required information; we want to empower them to take action to eradicate all sexual violence from within our community,” Wooten said.
While a recent government mandate requires universities provide this type of sexual assault information to incoming freshmen, Wooten said the advisory board’s campaign is not merely a last minute response. The committee began plans for “Bear Up Now” two years ago, she said.
“Though prevention programs are now legally mandated, Baylor is attempting to provide more for our students than just what is required,” Wooten said. “Baylor is responding in this way because we are a caring Christian community and it is the right thing to do.”
From positions in the Baylor Police Department to those in the counseling center, she said each board member interacts with sexual assault survivors daily.
Sarah Dorrell, case manager for student life and a member of the advisory board, said the need for a campaign like “Bear Up Now” also ensures students get the best out of their educational experience.
“I work a lot with survivors of sexual assault – with those who have just reported and beyond,” Dorrell said. “I see how it impacts their academic, social and spiritual development at Baylor. It’s an important topic that students need to understand is a community issue, not an individual one.”
Other colleges around the nation are using technology to reach a wider audience and increase college campus safety.
“TX Safety U” is a free app specific to Texas schools that provides information on the rate of assault occurrences at any Texas school and can connect users directly to the police department at a university.
“MyForce” is an app for schools around the nation created by Texas businessman, Michael Denton Jr.
Denton said the app’s unique feature is the ability to release information to first responders if a person is worried about their safety.
However, while the use of technology makes help more accessible, Wooten said in the event of intoxication or unconsciousness, an app may not be able to help and such apps should not be a student’s main line of defense.
“In the majority of rapes and sexual assaults, the student who’s assaulted has already been incapacitated through the use of alcohol or drugs,” Wooten said. “Unless you realize really quickly that you’ve been incapacitated, you may not be able to push that button.”
For more information about “Bear Up Now,” visit BearUpNow.com. To speak to a counselor about a sexual assault issue on campus, call the Baylor Counseling Center at (254) 710-2467.