Universities, cities offer resources to sexual violence victims

Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Bailey Ray | Contributor

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the actual statistic of sexual violence may be higher than reported due to the sensitive and personal nature it conforms to, given that there are slight discrepancies between this statistic and those of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. In addition to statistical data, the CDC explained what the encompassing term of “sexual violence” refers to.

The issue of sexual violence can involve many different parties, said the CDC, which outlined different types of perpetrators such as intimate partners, spouses and significant others. Many communities, including Baylor, work toward preventing interpersonal violence of this kind, but there are several lingering questions as to how these abusive acts happen, what administrations can do to prevent them and what individuals can do to help survivors after the fact.

Baylor has dealt with the topic of sexual violence on its own campus, especially in recent years. The Baylor Title IX office outlines the on-campus confidential and non-confidential resources for victims of interpersonal violence such as the Title IX staff, the Counseling Center and the Baylor Police Department. Bell discussed how being an on-campus tool is important to promote conversations about sexual violence.

“Sexual violence is a significant problem in the United States,” the CDC wrote. “[Sexual violence] refers to sexual activity when consent is not obtained or not given freely. Anyone can experience [sexual violence], but most victims are female. The person responsible for the violence is typically male and usually someone known to the victim. The person can be, but is not limited to, a friend, coworker, neighbor, or family member.”

More than one in four women are likely to experience unwanted sexual conduct in their lifetime, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This statistic, published in The Sexual Violence Surveillance: Uniform Definition and Data Elements in 2014, is readily available to anyone with an internet connection, yet misinformation about what happens to victims of violence and sexual misconduct of various forms is still out there, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

The existence of sexual violence in a significant portion of the female population is indicated by the CDC’s Data Elements.

Cara Tuttle Bell, director of Project Safe at Vanderbilt University, said the societal idea where victims of sexual violence will not be believed or will be shamed helps with the lack of resources.

“The rates of violence really are at epidemic levels,” Bell said. “That is important to acknowledge because we are not sufficiently responding to this public health crisis – a societal problem – and because one of the major hurdles to addressing intimate partner violence is the unfortunately common victim-blaming that keeps survivors from coming forward for support.”

“Many colleges and universities have only one overworked and, often, underpaid, person trying to take all of this on, which of course leads to burnout, which leads to turnover, which impedes the ability to actually provide quality service and make change on campus,” Bell said.

Though institutions’ programs are in question, experts like Bell with firsthand knowledge of the effects of interpersonal violence say the average individual can aid survivors in the healing process.

Recent Baylor graduate Cameron Jenkins is employed as the volunteer coordinator at the Waco Family Abuse Center. He interacts daily with survivors of domestic violence.

“The best thing is to be knowledgeable about [domestic violence],” Jenkins said. “Some people might hear that, ‘Oh, you’re not being hit, so you’re not being abused really.’ There is such thing as emotional and verbal abuse, and people don’t have to put their hands on someone else to be abusive. Knowing something like that and educating yourself could be helpful.”

Bell reiterated Jenkins’ call to action, who similarly emphasized the necessity of knowledge. Bell said that while the cause starts with awareness, the true test is to bring action into your own life and community by knowing how to support a survivor who comes to you for help. She explained how knowing the resources available on campus and the rights given to students will allow the system of dealing with interpersonal violence cases to eventually catch up to the problem.

“Be a good listener. Be a good friend,” Bell said. “This means you start by believing and offering support. While we may feel shocked or angry or upset when we learn that a friend has been assaulted, that is not our moment to display an emotional reaction – instead, respect their moment and experience.”