By Elizabeth Wellinghoff | Contributor
April is recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month focused on increasing and extending awareness of sexual violence. So, what does that mean and why is it important?
The bottom line with sexual assault and interpersonal violence is always prevention. We want to stop sexual violence before it ever happens, but we can’t do that without naming the problem. The CDC estimates that one in three women and one in six men have experienced an instance of physical sexual violence. These numbers are likely underestimated due to the low rate of reporting.
By recognizing that sexual violence affects so many individuals, we can dive into deeper, constructive conversations about why and how sexual violence happens. The art installation “What Were You Wearing?” is a great example of how having conversations about sexual assault are educational and break down myths. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a time where we can grow and expand those critical conversations.
Awareness isn’t just reiterating where and how to report sexual assault and interpersonal violence. In fact, most college students, including those at Baylor, say that they know who to report to. There are other misconceptions or myths that commonly hold students back from reporting. The Department of Justice reported in its Campus Climate Survey Report that the most common reasons for survivors not reporting were believing the incident wasn’t serious enough, they would be faulted, they would get in trouble and that their information wouldn’t be kept confidential.
Part of awareness is reinforcing that you are not alone. Each survivor’s story matters and is important. If you’ve experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault, stalking or intimate partner violence, that is serious and reporting it is valid. Any difficulties or hardships you’ve had from that experience are valid. Awareness is making sure survivors know that they matter and that they deserve to be heard.
A major misconception that we have to continually fight against is faulting victims. We can help change that narrative because no matter what someone was doing, what they were wearing or where they were, sexual violence is never justified. Awareness is making sure victim blaming doesn’t have a seat at the table.
Awareness is also extending resources. Title IX has amnesty and confidentiality policies in place so that fears of getting in trouble or information being shared aren’t barriers to reporting or getting resources. The university will not pursue disciplinary action against a student for disclosure of personal consumption of alcohol or other drugs where the disclosure is made in connection with a good faith report and the consumption did not place the health and safety of any person at risk. The privacy of students is of the utmost importance to Title IX, and information is only shared with a limited circle of university employees, specifically those who assist with the report.
Helping to break misconceptions and myths is a campus-wide responsibility so that we can better educate and advocate. We have to come together as the Baylor, Waco and global community to raise awareness, support survivors and prevent acts of violence.
You can start by being aware and intentional. Know the resources, engage in conversation and stand up if you witness injustice. Here are ways that you can aid in the fight against sexual assault:
Join the Sexual Assault Awareness Month conversations by viewing the “What Were You Wearing?” exhibit across campus or during Dr Pepper Hour on April 23. Participate in Cover the Cruiser — an activity that allows you to leave notes offering support to survivors on a university police cruiser on Fountain Mall on April 10. To cap off the month, we are hosting Continuous Commitment: Night of Reflection on the evening of April 26. Join us to consider why this conversation matters, why we commit to prevention and how we can extend awareness beyond April.
You can join the It’s On Us Student Group and be active on campus year round. You can also contact me for additional in-person training for yourself or a student group you are a part of.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, listen to them, believe them and provide them with resources. Consider reporting the incident to law enforcement, Title IX or a confidential source. If safety is a concern, call 9-1-1. Law enforcement has options for legal recourse, like a restraining order or an investigation. Baylor’s Title IX office can provide personal or academic support as well as a University disciplinary process. Baylor’s Counseling Center also has trained professionals who can help.
If you are not ready to report, consider on-campus confidential support through the Counseling Center, Health Services Center and Burt Burleson, university chaplain. Community resources include the Waco Advocacy Center at 254-752-9330 and the Family Abuse Center 1-800-283-8401. A SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Exam) is available at both Providence and Hillcrest hospitals. It is recommended to receive a SAFE/SANE within 96 hours of experiencing a sexual assault, and you do not have to report to law enforcement to receive a SAFE/SANE. Other resources can be found through the Title IX Office in Clifton Robinson Tower, suite 285, by emailing your Title IX Coordinator at TitleIX_Coordinator@baylor.edu or through the website, baylor.edu/titleix.
Elizabeth Wellinghoff is training and prevention specialist with the Baylor Title IX office.