Reflect on sexual assault awareness

By Elizabeth Wellinghoff | Contributor

As April comes to an end, we are closing our university focus on Sexual Assault Awareness Month with the event, Night of Reflection. Friday at 8 p.m., members of the Baylor and Waco communities will come together around Rosenbalm Fountain to reflect on why they commit to preventing sexual assault. Our goal is to highlight the importance of sexual assault awareness as well as reflecting on why our conversations and commitments regarding awareness and prevention should continue beyond April. As we move into the summer and fall, our efforts of prevention can be strengthened by gaining an understanding of the impact of sexual violence.

Sexual violence takes a tremendous toll on survivors and their families. Their pain is real and the impact long-lasting. It is interesting that the CDC also has estimated the lifetime cost of rape per survivor at $122,461. That includes medical costs, lost productivity, criminal justice activities and more.

Beyond monetary cost, the physical and mental health impact on survivors of sexual violence is important to understand. These health costs can range from cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems to the abuse of alcohol and drugs. Readjustment after experiencing sexual violence can affect employment, school and relationships.

Now that the events of Sexual Assault Awareness Month are wrapping up, I challenge you to consider ways that you can actively prevent sexual violence.

Be an active bystander. Witnesses of violence and harassment often don’t speak up if other witnesses are around. The bystander effect happens when each witness places the responsibility to respond on those around them. The problem comes when every bystander assumes someone else will step up, leaving no one to take action on behalf of the victim.

Be aware of the bystander effect and push through the tendency to stand back if you witness injustice. A good rule of thumb is to CARE: create a distraction, ask directly, refer to an authority and enlist others.

  • Creating a distraction means interrupting the situation by entering the conversation or drawing someone you are concerned about into a larger activity.
  • Ask the person you are concerned for direct questions like, “Would you like me to stay with you?”
  • In some instances, the best thing to do is refer your concern to someone with the authority to step in and alter the situation.
  • Lastly, if you feel uncomfortable about entering a situation alone, enlist someone else to help you.

Keep in mind that sexual violence affects all types of people, at all ages and can have a significant, long-lasting impact. Arm yourself with the facts, tips for prevention and resources so that you are prepared to help our community combat sexual violence. Help educate your peers about sexual violence and the ways it can impact others. Reinforcing healthy relationships, managing emotions and practicing good communication can encourage social standards that protect against violence and create caring environments.

You can promote awareness on campus through groups like It’s On Us Student Group and Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault (MARS). The Baylor Campus Rave Guardian App can aid in personal safety on campus with the ability to quickly and precisely contact University police in the case of an emergency or dial 9-1-1 when you are off campus. You can even set a safety timer to notify a contact or guardian if you are worried for your safety. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is a national anti-sexual assault organization that provides involvement opportunities, safety and prevention tips, statistics and resources, including a live chat and hotline.

The Title IX Office has multiple options for reporting, including an anonymous and third-party option. We strongly encourage you to report instances of sexual assault, gender-based harassment, sexual exploitation, stalking, intimate partner violence and retaliation to Title IX for personal or academic support as well as to discuss the option of a university disciplinary process. On-campus confidential resources include University Health Services, the Counseling Center and the university chaplain.

Community resources also are available to support those impacted by sexual violence. For a full list of resources, an overview of your rights and responsibilities, reporting tools and other information, visit You also can contact the Title IX Office in Clifton Robinson Tower, suite 285 or email the university’s Title IX Coordinator at TitleIX_Coordinator

Awareness and prevention are the responsibility of each member of the Baylor community. We hope you will join us Friday at 8 p.m. near Rosenbalm Fountain to reflect on our role in support of survivors of sexual assault and commit to awareness and prevention all year long.

Elizabeth Wellinghoff is training and prevention specialist with the Baylor Title IX office.